The U.N. Security Council has targeted illegal wildlife traffickers for sanctions in a pair of resolutions against African armed groups, a step conservationists called unprecedented and a major shift on aproblem that has morphed from an environmental issue into a security threat.
A resolution that renewed an arms embargo, travel bans and asset freezes against armed groups in Congo included individuals who support those groups “through illicit trade of natural resources, including gold or wildlife as well as wildlife products.” The Security Council approved the resolution on Thursday, two days after including similar language in a sanctions regime imposed on armed groups in the Central African Republic.
The conservation group WWF said the resolutions “represent the first times that the U.N. Security Council has specifically named illicit trade of wildlife and wildlife products in sanctions regimes.”
The move follows years of warnings from advocates and U.N. officials that wildlife trafficking, particularly elephant ivory, has increasingly become a source of financing for armed groups.
“It’s a huge step forward,” said Wendy Elliott, WWF species programme manager. Wildlife traffickers “are funding the armed groups that are causing the human rights violations, but it is still treated as an environmental issue and that is just not going to work out.”
Britain, which will host a summit on illicit wildlife trafficking next month, applauded the Security Council for approving a “sanctions regime which includes targeting those who fuel instability by illegally exploiting wildlife.”
A source of conflict
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said, “In recent years, wildlife trafficking has become a lucrative business and a source for conflict, so it’s a sign of progress that the Security Council recognises the link between stopping poaching and advancing peace.” In their report, the U.N. experts said the slaughter of elephants in Congo “is one of the most tragic consequences of years of war and poor governance.”
In Garamba National Park, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a census showed fewer than 2,000 elephants were left in 2012, compared to 22,000 in the 1960s. The report said the Lord’s Resistance Army which originated in Uganda and has waged one of Africa’s most brutal rebellions maintains bases in the park, has engaged in firefights with park rangers, including a shooting in May 2013 that left two girls dead.
In a report last year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there were signs that the illegal trade in elephant ivory constitutes an important source of funding for armed groups including the LRA, whose fighters moved into Congo, South Sudan and Central Africa Republic after Ugandan troops flushed them out of their country.
Conservationists say a thriving ivory trade market in Asia is helping fuel the worst poaching epidemic of African elephants in decades. Ms Elliot said one challenge in implementing the sanctions will be proving the connection between poachers, traffickers and armed groups. — AP