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New study lifts the lid on addressing corruption in CITES documentation processes

By March 10, 2020Conservation | March 6, 2020

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Cambridge, UK – A new TRAFFIC-authored study examines the thorny issue of corruption and how it relates to abuse of permitting systems operated to regulate wildlife trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Key findings

CITES regulates the international trade in approximately 36,000 species of wild plants and animals through a permit system for species listed in the Appendices to the Convention.

Each member government to the Convention designates one or more Management Authorities who are in charge of administering the permit licensing system, and one or more Scientific Authorities who advise on the effects of trade in listed species.

Permits should only be issued if the CITES Authorities are satisfied that the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species and that the specimens were obtained legally.

However, this system gives rise to numerous possibilities for document abuse and corrupt practices, both when documents are issued and upon inspection at border crossings.

Case studies highlight a number of such practices, some involving high-level officials. They range from permit fraud for ape exports from Guinea, copying and bribery to obtain export permits in Madagascar, permits falsified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, post-export issuance of timber permits and false captive breeding information on ape export permits from Nigeria, and re-use of permits in Viet Nam for rhino horn whose hunting was facilitated by corrupt professional hunters.

To help curtail document abuse and corruption, the new study makes a number of recommendations. They include the prosecution of corrupt officials for violating national and international legislation, the introduction of e-permitting systems to help streamline and better regulate CITES processes, ensuring adequate monitoring of permitting systems with strong deterrent penalties for anyone convicted of abusing them, improved training for relevant officials so they can detect abuse, and improving measures to make paper documents more secure.

Addressing corruption is key to curtailing wildlife crime: in 2017, heads of the world’s 20 major economies, the so-called “G20 leaders” issued a strong pledge to address the corruption that facilitates wildlife trafficking.

The study was part of the USAID-funded Targeting Natural Resource Corruption project aimed at strengthening anti-corruption knowledge and practices to improve biodiversity outcomes by reducing threats posed by corruption to wildlife, fisheries and forests.