Senior ASEAN Officials Direct Wildlife Enforcement Network and CITES to Merge

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ASEAN-WEN to Merge with Regional CITES Group.

New 10 year Work Plan to be Hatched

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Delegates gathered in Siem Reap this week for the 11th Annual ASEAN-WEN Meeting. Photo credit: Dr. Esteven Toledo, Biodiversity Management Bureau (Philippines)

Siem Reap, Cambodia, March 25, 2016: Signaling the need to streamline and sustain wildlife protection efforts, Senior officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sent a directive this week to the region’s Wildlife Enforcement Network (WEN) to structurally reorganize to become a more comprehensive and permanently entrenched entity at this week’s 11th Annual Meeting of ASEAN-WEN in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Marking 10 years in existence, the meeting celebrated milestones achievements in the region’s fight against wildlife crime and discussed means of maximizing the effectiveness of ASEAN-WEN – a now well-established entity. However, member countries have struggled with getting commitments from all 10-member states to financially sustain their regional secretariat, which is based in Bangkok. In response to annual calls for sustainability, and in a move to streamline ASEAN operations, the ASEAN Senior Officers for Forestry (ASOF), directed ASEAN-WEN and the ASEAN Expert Group on CITES to merge and work more closely with the ASEAN Secretariat on a new 10-year action plan to combat wildlife crime.

Mr. Faisal Nordin, Head of the Wildlife Division of Brunei’s Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism said that “ASEAN-WEN has gone a long way. Although a lot of progress has been made in the enforcement and policy front, we need to evolve and streamline our intra-ASEAN CITES and natural resources collaboration. We hope that with the upcoming restructuring and policy developments within ASEAN-WEN, we can make it stronger and sustainable.” Mr. Faisal served as chairman of ASEAN-WEN from 2015-2016. He added: “We intend to activate many commitments made by our respective governments in the fight against wildlife crime. We appreciate the support of existing partners like the United States in facilitating public-public partnerships, and with a renewed intra-ASEAN collaboration, with likeminded bodies like, ASEANAPOL, SOMTC, ACB and AIPA.”

The AEG is a CITES scientific network and trade regulator, and when unified with ASEAN-WEN would share information, expertise, and intelligence, and work together to achieve an intricate, profound understanding of wildlife crime in the region.

Signifying increased collective action on the horizon, the ASEANAPOL (ASEAN National Police) Secretariat was present at this week’s ASEAN-WEN meeting, and indicated interest in synchronizing policy and enforcement, as well as providing enforcement support. This is a direct result of the re-categorization of wildlife and timber trafficking as trans-national organized crime – and a priority agenda – at last year’s ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC).

ASEAN-WEN and AEG will soon re-convene as one new unit to map out a 10-year strategic plan of action. The developments from this week’s meeting demonstrate the recognition of, and a desire to build upon, the significant achievements of ASEAN-WEN over its 10 years in operation. ASEAN-WEN was the first body of its kind when established, and is composed of police, customs, prosecutors and other enforcement bodies in all 10 member states.

Over the last 5 years alone, more than 2,000 officers were trained from 430 agencies, leading to over 600 enforcement actions. Over the past decade, ASEAN-WEN seized over US$100 million in wildlife and financial assets from criminals.

Because of ASEAN-WEN’s progress, WENs are being replicated in other regions. The Horn of Africa, South Asia and Central America Wildlife Enforcement Networks (HA-WEN, SA-WEN and CA-WEN, respectively) are, for example, all in varying stages of development. It’s also become a useful framework through which to organize cross-border exchanges and special investigations on wildlife crime with other regions.

“We hope that ASEAN-WEN will develop a multi-member funding system for its secretariat, and make good on its intention to create closer ties to ASEANAPOL,” said Steven Galster, Chief of Party of the ARREST Program. “One way to galvanize strength from local and international enforcement networks, rather than have them compete, is to have each ASEAN-WEN country’s focal points for ASEANAPOL, Interpol, CITES, World Customs Organization, and Financial Intelligence Units join the national WEN task forces.”

The formation of ASEAN-WEN back in 2006 was brought about by the need for a coordinated, transnational response to the organized trafficking and illegal trade of wildlife that is decimating species and ecosystems around the world. It was established under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) ASEAN-WEN Support Program, a predecessor of Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) Program. The international counter-trafficking organization, Freeland, has played an instrumental role in its establishment and growth.

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