Wildlife Justice Commission
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Customer Focus: Wildlife Justice Commission

The Wildlife Justice Commission fights transnational, organized criminal networks trading in wildlife, timber, and fish. These crimes affect us all and must be stopped as Executive Director Olivia Swaak-Goldman explains in this interview.

“Illegal wildlife trade is worth 20 billion dollars a year.”

The Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) was set up in 2015. A group of legal theorists and conservationists felt a sense of urgency because of the diminishing wildlife population. At that time, an elephant was being killed every two minutes. The poaching and trafficking of protected wildlife species were the major factors of the problem. The group wanted to make a change to ensure that this issue was taken as seriously as it should be.

The solution was simple but brilliant.

“What they decided to do was to create a mechanism to ensure accountability for these crimes,” explained Executive Director Olivia Swaak-Goldman of the WJC.

Olivia Swaak-Goldman

Olivia Swaak-Goldman

Enforce the Rules

Expanding the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to include wildlife crime was one possible road to take. “That is a very, very long process,” Swaak-Goldman said in her office in The Hague, the Netherlands. “So in the meantime, we try to create our own accountability.”

A lawyer who worked at the International Criminal Court and the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Swaak-Goldman knows the importance of the rule of law. “I believe strongly that we have an obligation to enforce the rules that we created as an international community to protect the weak in society by law whether they are children in armed conflict or animals that are seeking to survive.”

It is not just about vulnerable animals though. Swaak-Goldman emphasized that her work is about transnational, organized crime networks in the first place. These criminals make huge amounts of money just like human traffickers and illegal arms dealers do. There is approximately 20 billion dollars a year worth of illegal wildlife trade every year.

This enormous profitability has a huge impact. “Wildlife crime is deeply matched with corruption and the breakdown of the rule of law. It needs corruption to make it run, and the more corruption you have, the better it runs. That means that people cannot count on their government.”

Furthermore, wildlife crime affects everybody. “It is not just in Africa or Asia. Protected species are trafficked everywhere. Europe is a big destination for reptiles, birds, and other illegal wildlife.” Wildlife crime affects many species, “It may not be all ivory and rhino horns.”

Disrupting and Dismantling Criminal Networks

Aiming to disrupt and to dismantle the criminal networks that are engaging in wildlife crime and to help bring them to justice, the WJC has developed a unique method. That is… unique for a non-governmental organization.

“The vast majority of our staff are former government employees whether they are former police officers, criminal analysts. or prosecutors,” Swaak-Goldman described. “We basically use the same tools and techniques that law enforcement does.”

The WJC analysts are key to these investigations. “They help us make sense of all the intelligence that we get: where do we need to be going, who are major traffickers, et cetera.”

Then the WJC’s undercover operatives go to the field pretending to be a buyer of contraband. They will meet with traffickers in countries such as Vietnam and Laos, and document their interactions.

Bring the Criminals to Justice

Subsequently, Swaak-Goldman’s staff put together a case file for the government where the trade has been uncovered. In most instances, the police in this specific country will handle the case and bring the criminals to justice.

When governments don’t take action, WJC has a secret weapon: they hold a public hearing with all the concomitant publicity. The first public hearing was in November 2016 and followed an 18-month investigation by the WJC into the wildlife trafficking hub in Nhi Khe, Viet Nam.

The results were amazing. Following the public hearing, the WJC met with senior members of Vietnamese law enforcement agencies. In the meantime, the open trade of illegal wildlife products in Nhi Khe has, for the most part, been eradicated.

Until now, the public hearing described above was the only one that the WJC ever held. “The fact that we could go to a public hearing is an important aspect of why we are so successful,” as Swaak-Goldman put it succinctly.

More Information

At Raptim, we are proud to serve the WJC and all organizations willing to help people and animals anywhere in the world. We believe our world is a better place when compassion can travel where it is needed most. As an organization, we are committed to serving those who serve the world. The Wildlife Justice Commission is a small organization that is completely made up of donations from foundations and individuals. If you want, you can make a donation through this page.

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