The public discussion and debate was held Monday on the first-ever World Wildlife Day. This day of recognition was designated last year in Bangkok at The 16th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Thailand’s wildlife protection laws were scrutinized during the debate, especially for weak penalties under the law and a legal loophole allowing poached African ivory to be sold on the domestic market.
Criminal syndicates behind the $19 billion annual illicit trade in endangered species are using Thailand to smuggle wildlife into, through and out of the country. Thailand’s Wild Reservation and Protection Act B.E. 2535 (1992), commonly known as WARPA, has been debated for 14 years, and is in need of updating to deter criminals from trafficking wildlife in The Kingdom. Thailand’s current law includes a maximum fine of US$1,300 for wildlife criminals and up to four years in prison, though very few traffickers have gone to jail.
Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Law hosted the public Town Hall Meeting which Freeland, a Bangkok-based counter-trafficking organization, co-sponsored as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking Program.
The Town Hall Meeting provided a platform for discussions between academics, law enforcement officials, NGO representatives, and Chulalongkorn students. The public discussion raised issues such as the urgent need to improve Thailand’s wildlife law to better address the current prolific and organized wildlife trafficking situation. Participants highlighted ways to increase the effectiveness of law enforcement and prosecutions under the current law by applying other statutes such as the National Security Act, which was recently amended to allow for special operations to combat transnational organized crimes, such as wildlife trafficking, which pose a serious risk to national security.
A loophole in the WARPA law which allows the trade in non-native species was also discussed at length. Strengthening cooperation between agencies, stamping out corruption, and increasing enforcement of laws were key recommendations of the experts who attended the event.
“Improving the law alone is not enough. We must also enforce the law. These two things need to be done together,” said Associate Professor Kanongnij Sribua-iam, an environmental law expert from Chulalongkorn University.
The March 3 Town Hall Meeting was the first in a series of events planned throughout 2014 to help reform Thailand’s wildlife protection law. The results of these discussions will be forwarded to relevant government agencies and the Committee of Natural Resources, Land and Environment of Thailand’s House of Representatives and Senate, the committee responsible for amending the WARPA
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is an independent U.S. Government Agency that operates under the foreign policy direction of the U.S. Secretary of State. Following 50 years of improving lives through development and humanitarian assistance, USAID is the principal U.S. Government development agency partnering with countries throughout the world to promote peace, prosperity, and security. Please visit www.usaid.gov or follow www.facebook.com/USAIDAsia for more information.
Freeland is a frontline movement making the world free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Through offices in Asia, Africa and the Americas and in partnership with more than 60 organizations, Freeland raises awareness, builds capacity, strengthens networks and promotes good governance to protect critical ecosystems and vulnerable people. Freeland is the lead implementing partner of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking Program (ARREST). For more info, visit www.freeland.org also; follow Freeland on twitter @FREELANDpeople or facebook.com/freelandfoundation