IRIN Africa: Environmental crimes increasingly linked to violence, insecurity

NEW YORK, 3 October 2013 (IRIN) – Organized environmental crime is known to pose a multi-layered threat to human security, yet it has long been treated as a low priority by law enforcers, seen as a fluffy “green” issue that belongs in the domain of environmentalists.

But due to a variety of factors – including its escalation over the past decade, its links to terrorist activities, the rising value of environmental contraband and the clear lack of success among those trying to stem the tide – these crimes are inching their way up the to-do lists of law enforcers, politicians and policymakers.

The recent terror attack on the popular Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, has placed environmental crimes like the ivory and rhino horn trade under increased scrutiny. Al-Shabab, the Islamist militant group that has taken credit for the attack, is widely believed to fund as much as 40 percent of its activities from elephant poaching, or the “blood ivory” trade. The Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal rebel group active in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, is also known to be funded through elephant poaching.

Rising incomes in Asia have stimulated demand for ivory and rhino horn, leading to skyrocketing levels of poaching. Over the past five years, the rate of rhino horn poaching in South Africa has increased sevenfold as demand in Vietnam and other Asian countries for the horn – used as cancer treatments, aphrodisiacs and status symbols – grows…

There is evidence that heavy weaponry, such as rocket mortars and semi-automatic weapons, as well as helicopters, are being used by poachers, says investigative journalist Julian Rademeyer, whose book, Killing for Profit, exposes the illicit rhino horn trade in South Africa.

Frequently, top players like alleged kingpin Vixay Keosavang, who is dubbed “the Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking” and is said to operate with impunity in his home country of Laos, have links to government officials and other powerful elites.

And no amount of policing can eliminate the fact that environmental crimes are widely seen as a passport out of poverty. Rademeyer, who presented his findings at the conference, found that young men from destitute villages in Mozambique who entered the Kruger National Park to poach rhinos were regarded as heroes in their communities because of the money they brought home.

Read the full report here…

 

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