AWF Convenes First East African Wildlife Crime Prosecutors Group

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The East African Association of Prosecutors, in partnership with the National Public Prosecution Authority Rwanda, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), and Space for Giants held the first-ever East African Wildlife Prosecutors Coalition Workshop in Kigali, Rwanda from August 14-16, 2018.Themed “The Role of the Prosecution in Combating Wildlife Crime in East Africa,” the workshop was funded by the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and AWF. It is a follow-up to a regional law enforcement conference held in Nairobi, Kenya in July 2016 focused on the pressing issues affecting East Africa on matters related to wildlife crime. One of the key recommendations in the resulting action plan was the establishment of a Wildlife Crimes Prosecutors Coalition for the region. 

The three-day workshop, hosted by the Rwandan Prosecutor General, brought together 51 participants from countries within East Africa, as well as two participants from Zambia. Also represented were academia, international agencies, and NGOs including Strathmore University, the East African Community, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, TRAFFIC, and the Lusaka Agreement Taskforce. The objectives were to increase understanding of transnational wildlife crime, devise mechanisms for regional cooperation in wildlife law enforcement, and improve border security to prevent trafficking of wildlife products.

Member states also drafted a constitution and by-laws of the East African Wildlife Prosecutors Coalition (EAWPC). Under the proposed constitution, the objectives of the coalition include creating a transnational law enforcement network and enhancing information-sharing among agencies. One of the functions of the coalition will be promoting inter-agency national and regional training programs.

The proposed constitution also spells out how states can join the coalition.  Membership will only be open to countries that are part of the East African Community — an intergovernmental organization comprising Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. However, individual membership will be open to other prosecutors from different regions.

During the workshop, participants also prioritized activities to be carried out by the coalition based on the 2016 action plan. These included creating a joint database of wildlife offenders within the region, reviewing, simplification and scaling up of the mutual legal assistance in the region, advocating for harmonization of laws and policies, fighting corruption in the wildlife agencies and capacity building. Apart from developing an overall prosecutions crime strategy, participants also deliberated best practices in areas such as the legal systems in East Africa as well as the ethics and guiding principles in wildlife crime prosecution. These topics among others will be presented on the EAWPC website.

The formation of this coalition helps streamline legal and investigative operations across borders, forming a robust wildlife crime prosecutorial network within the region. It also sends a strong message to wildlife offenders that law enforcers are also working collaboratively to stamp out wildlife crime from East Africa.