International law and the fight against wildlife crime: challenges and perspectives

Edinburgh Napier University

Wildlife crime is one of the fastest growing transnational crimes in the world generating up to USD 20 billion per year according to INTERPOL behind drug trafficking, human trafficking and illicit trade in weapons. According to several studies, wildlife crime constitutes a serious environmental hazard as a driver of biodiversity loss threatening the survival of several thousands of species and with it ecosystem services beneficial to mankind. In addition to an environmental hazard, wildlife crime has been characterized as a serious threat to peace and security by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA Res 73/343) and by the United Nations Security Council in the context of civil conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (UNSC Res 2134 (2014) and the Central African Republic (UNSC Res (2136) where profits from wildlife crime are used to finance armed groups and militias. Ramifications have also been established between wildlife crime and the financing of terrorism.

Wildlife crime is a very complex form of transnational crime as it involves multiple actors throughout the criminal chain from local poachers on the ground to sophisticated transnational crime syndicates and intermediaries from corrupt government officials to both regular and irregular armed forces. The denomination of wildlife crime is actually an umbrella term encompassing several types of offences of crimes pertaining to the harvesting and trade of wildlife products in contravention to international and domestic laws. As such it can include mere poaching to sophisticated forms of illicit trade the conduct of which may trigger the commission of other crimes such as corruption, money laundering, counterfeit of official documents. As wildlife crime involves the illicit exploitation of animals which can jeopardize their welfare, one could also wonder to what extent animal cruelty could also fall under the definition of wildlife crime.

The multifaceted nature of wildlife crime, its ramifications to other forms of transnational crimes and diversity of perpetrators makes it very difficult for the law to grasp. There is currently no international legal instrument specifically dedicated to wildlife crime although several drafts of international instruments emanating from academics and non-governmental have been proposed. Currently, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of 1975, the two 2003 United Conventions on Transnational Organized Crime and against Corruption are the main international legal instruments used to tackle wildlife crime in addition to international cooperation involving states, intergovernmental agencies and NGOs.

Despite many legal issues raised by wildlife crime, literature on the topic remain relatively scarce with only a handful of articles delving into the topic. A more in-depth study which would assess the strength and weaknesses of current international and domestic legal frameworks and then explore the way forward would be timely. The study could also contribute to the United Kingdome efforts to curb wildlife crime through its Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW UK) which has a local branch in Scotland (PAW Scotland).

Academic Qualifications:

A first degree (at least a 2.1) ideally in Law with a good fundamental knowledge of legal theory and research methodologies.


English Language Requirement:

IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with no less than 6.0 in each of the four components), Ither equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s policy are available online.

Essential Attributes:

·       Experience of fundamental knowledge in legal analysis

·       Competent in conducting independent research in law

·       Knowledge of public international law and international environmental law

·       Good written and oral communication skills

·       Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project

·       Good time management

Desirable Attributes:

A good understanding of transnational organized crime issues and more specifically transnational environmental crime.

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