Laos People’s Supreme Court hosts regional conference on Justice for Wildlife

Posted on 03 June 2022

Three national Supreme Courts met to discuss adjudication of wildlife crime as a serious organised crime in the Greater Mekong and identify pathways towards improved justice for wildlife.
03 June 2022, Luang Prabang– The Supreme Courts from Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam came together for two days for the first Justice for Wildlife: Regional Chief Justices Conference on Wildlife Crime, hosted by the People’s Supreme Court of Lao PDR in Luang Prabang, Laos.

The conference, co-organised by the People’s Supreme Court of Lao PDR and the Laos Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, has been convened to strengthen the law enforcement, prosecution and conviction rates for wildlife crimes in the region. Many wildlife crimes in the region and internationally never make it to court, and those that do have historically been given lenient penalties that do not match the seriousness of the crime.

“This is the first time that we have organised an event of this calibre that supports cooperation on wildlife crime adjudication,” said the Vice President of the People’s Supreme Court, H.E. Khamphanh Bounkhakhom. “We are pleased to hear that our counterparts in Cambodia and Viet Nam are also committed to strengthening our mutual cooperation on justice for wildlife, and am hopeful that we can continue using existing mechanisms to share our experiences and lessons learned in the judicial sector to combat wildlife trafficking and treat it as a serious crime.”

The meeting is coordinated by WWF and funded by the U.S. Department of State: Bureau of International Narcotics & Law Enforcement Affairs through the Fighting Illegal Wildlife Trafficking in the Golden Triangle and the Countering Wildlife Trafficking in Lao PDR projects, together with support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) through the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.

“We have been working to help improve coordination and cooperation between law enforcement agencies, both within countries and across borders, and we recognise the critical role the prosecution and judiciary have to play if wildlife crimes are to be taken seriously, on the level of drug and human trafficking offences,” said Jedsada Taweekan, Regional Illegal Wildlife Trade Manager for WWF-Greater Mekong. “We are delighted that the Justices from the highest courts of the three Mekong countries are showing their commitment to improving adjudication of wildlife crime and sending a clear message to their own countries and to the larger ASEAN community that they consider wildlife crime as a serious crime.”

"Creating a precedent for this kind of cross-border judicial discussion and cooperation is a heartening first step towards improving the way wildlife crimes are prosecuted and tried in the region," said Sylvia Shweder, the U.S. Department of Justice's OPDAT Regional Resident Legal Advisor for Counter Wildlife Trafficking in SE Asia. "There's still a great deal of work to be done, and we are committed to supporting the Lao People's Supreme Court to become a champion for wildlife justice in the region."

At the end of the two-day meeting, the representatives of the three National Supreme Courts identified the need to coordinate, not only with other relevant agencies, but across borders, citing an existing trilateral coordination framework on adjudicating transnational issues, and suggesting that wildlife crime be a key component of that cooperation in the future. They also discussed building on existing commitments made by the courts, including those made as members of the Council of ASEAN Chief Justices, and finding ways to learn from the experiences of other regional courts who have been successful in setting up environmental benches, strong and fair sentencing guidelines and other good practices so that the judiciary can play a crucial role in deterring wildlife crime.

“The fact that over 100 Lao judges from courts around the country and delegations from Cambodia and Veit Nam have taken time out of their busy schedules to be here and plan a way forward means that we are committed to working together on this transnational issue,” said Loris Palentini, Country Director of WWF-Laos. “We know how difficult it is to effectively combat wildlife trade, and that it is not something we will be able to solve overnight, but I am encouraged by this spirit of collaboration and WWF is committed to working with the judiciary and other partners to achieve our collective goals of ending wildlife crime.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought global attention to the enormous public health risk posed by the wildlife trade. Transnational organised wildlife crime is a threat to national security and to the resilience of local communities to social and economic upheaval caused by environmental degradation. Effective adjudication of wildlife crimes can help protect the security and stability of countries in the region and around the world.
Participants in the Justice for Wildlife: Regional Chief Justices Conference meeting.
© Bounpone Sokmexay/WWF-Laos
African elephant tusks are seized in Thailand, the biggest unregulated ivory market in the world.
© WWF / James Morgan