Archives For Environmental Security

Logging in Africa

Tuesday Reitano, Deputy Director, Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime and Riana Raymonde Randrianarisoa, ENACT consultant and independent journalist have published the following article concerning illicit logging in Africa –

Across the continent, illicit logging undermines peace and security and attracts exploitation. From the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Gambia to Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar and Namibia, recent ENACT research has highlighted that illicit logging operations are exposing the continent’s communities to environments marred by serious labour and sexual exploitation. Young people are particularly affected.

Africa’s forestry sector is notoriously under-regulated. Leading UK think tank, Chatham House has estimated that in most forested countries in Africa, 80% to 100% of all trees felled could be done so illicitly.

This is due to a combination of factors, including highly limited state capacity for forestry governance and contestation between federal, local and traditional authorities over land ownership and usage. Limited awareness and weaknesses in law enforcement and customs also contribute to the problem, as do corruption and bureaucratic systems of issuing permits and licenses.

As a consequence, illicit interests and criminal actors have infiltrated logging supply chains across the continent, further diverting efforts for legitimate oversight. These dynamics are examined in an upcoming ENACT research paper.

Timber extraction, by its nature, is a hazardous occupation. But with illicit, unregulated and informal logging, safety risks increase – often with fatal consequences.

A TRAFFIC report examining the illicit logging industry in Madagascar, for example, estimated that three out of every 10 loggers in the industry die in workplace-related accidents. Madagascar is currently under a complete logging moratorium, so all aspects of the trade are illicit and shrouded in secrecy. A local Malagasy politician confirmed to ENACT researchers that high mortality rates at logging sites have become a major issue, because most of the wood cutters and transporters are not from local populations.

‘Bosses recruit them from other villages or other districts because it is easy to have control over them,’ explained the president of a local conservation NGO, adding that when workplace deaths occur at logging sites, timber fellers and transporters often have to bury their fallen colleagues in the forest to avoid detection.

The Namibian charcoal market, where approximately 6 000 people are employed, is characterised as ‘informal and fragmented, mired with the exploitation of workers and preventable environmental degradation.’ The subcontractors are remunerated according to the quantity of charcoal they produce. The financials are structured in a way that makes it impossible for these subcontractors to turn a profit, let alone to harvest within the law.

Charcoal workers often come from Namibia’s poorest region, Kavango, and find themselves caught in systems of debt bondage – whereby their payments can never repay the ‘debts’ they accumulate to their employer.

Landowners procure charcoal production and transport permits and provide the equipment needed to log, but then offset these costs against the worker’s production. In this region, entire families often live on site and become reliant on charcoal production. This pattern is replicated on logging sites across the continent. In many instances, foreign firms have aggressively infiltrated artisanal supply chains; capturing licenses and concessions intended for small-scale community use and forcing locals into exploitative contractual arrangements.

The illicit logging sector has also become rife with child labour, which can be viewed as a form of human trafficking. The prospect of quick earnings in unstable economic climates often incentivises families to take children out of school during timber harvests.

Profits from the logging industry may at first seem appealing and offer a greater promise of a future than education. However, scores of young men who are recruited into log transport operations have lost limbs, faced extended hospitalisation or been fatally injured on the job. Young girls are equally at risk. Community health officers in a logging community have commented on spikes in pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted infections during logging season, along with widespread sexual abuse.

ENACT research indicates that that sex work is pervasive across informal and illicit timber sites across the continent, as it is in other informal and under- or unregulated industries.  Loggers in Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and the Gambia have confirmed allegations that under-age girls from as far away as Nigeria are often forcibly trafficked to logging sites in these regions for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

Trafficking groups provide false identification, claiming that the girls are local residents and legal adults. If police or law enforcement unit asks about the girls, traffickers may attempt to evade law enforcement action by claiming that the girls are consenting adults. Our research in logging sites, however, suggests a very different reality. Girls are trafficked against their will, under false pretences, and are held in situations where they are sexually exploited and brutally abused.

While much has been written about the negative impact of illicit logging, the focus is usually on the environmental damage and financial losses caused by the increasingly criminal practice. The human cost – in terms of the degradation of human rights, quality of living and prospects for communities living and working in and around illegal logging sites – is often overlooked. Yet the exploitation and abuse on Africa’s youth may have long-lasting negative consequences for the continent’s development.

Initiatives to promote Africa’s forestry sector, which is frequently highlighted as a potential engine for economic growth, must go beyond simply maximising trade. They must also guarantee safe, viable and sustainable livelihoods for those employed in the sector.

Source: ENACT, 10 July 2018., by T.Reitano and R.Raymonde Randrianarisoa

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High Tech Game Park

Almost the size of Pretoria, this 62,000 hectare private reserve on the border with Kruger National Park has upped its game against poaching.

What was once an operation with a handful anti-poachers patrolling an electric fence and hiding in watch towers has now been turned into a 21st century fortress in the bush.

This is all thanks to a pilot project called “Connected Conservation“, a collaboration between 48 private lodge owners, the tech company Cisco, and Dimension Data, the data solutions company.

While there had been great initiatives to protect the rhino over the years, these were reactive and the number of these animals being killed were increasing at an alarming rate. By combining tech thermal imaging cameras and thumb-print scanners with things like sniffer dogs, the reserve tracks the movement of people before they get close to endangered animals.

Since it began in 2015, the upgrades have brought about a 96% reduction in rhino poaching incursions, as well as reducing illegal incursions into the reserve by 68%. Key to the success has been reducing ranger response time from 30 minutes to 7 minutes.

Source: Business Insider, original article and photo by Caboz, J, 9 May 2018.

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The U.S. Embassy in South Africa’s office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) donated border enforcement equipment and tools to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) at their K-9 facility in Kempton Park today. The equipment will be utilized in support SARS’ efforts to safeguard the borders in South Africa. The donation, valuing more than $105,000, includes vehicle GPS units, field binoculars, night vision goggles, handheld thermal imagers, radiation detector/pagers, and contraband detection kits.

The donation is a part of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s longstanding partnership with the government of South Africa to support border security, trade facilitation and combat wildlife trafficking. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Jessye Lapenn said, “Following South Africa’s success in hosting the 17th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016, we are delighted to support your continued efforts. This equipment will be used to help conserve your incredibly diverse wildlife species, promote economic development, and combat the multi-billion dollar illicit wildlife trade within your borders, across our borders, and globally. I am proud of the great work our South African and American teams have done together on these issues. Together, we are making a difference.”

An executive for Customs at SARS said, “from the South African perspective, we acknowledge and receive these ‘tools of the trade’ from the United States with gratitude. This donation will strengthen our long-lasting relationship with the United States, which has been assisting us since the 1990s. Our work together has helped us improve our fight against the illicit economy.”

With more than 60,000 employees, CBP is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations and is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade. As the United States’ first unified border entity, CBP takes a comprehensive approach to border management and control, combining customs, immigration, border security, and agricultural protection into one coordinated and supportive activity. The men and women of CBP are responsible for enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws and regulations. On a typical day, CBP welcomes nearly one million visitors, screens more than 67,000 cargo containers, arrests more than 1,100 individuals, and seizes nearly six tons of illicit drugs. Annually, CBP facilitates an average of more than $3 trillion in legitimate trade while enforcing U.S. trade laws.

Source:  APO on behalf of U.S. Embassy Pretoria, South Africa.

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Cape Town businessman Arnold Bengis drained South Africa’s seas – and now it is payback time.

A US court has ordered the 81-year-old to pay South Africa $37-million (about R483-million) for catching thousands of tons of rock lobster over 14 years.

The restitution amount replaces a $21-million payment Bengis agreed to make to South Africa in 2004. Because he paid only $1.25-million and placed the rest “out of reach of the US”, Manhattan District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan sentenced him on Wednesday to more than four years’ imprisonment.

Kaplan ordered an immediate arrest warrant for Bengis, now living in Israel. State attorney Kiersten Fletcher said US authorities would try to extradite him.

Said the judge: “There is value to Mr Bengis understanding that.there may be a knock at the door and a pair of handcuffs in his future.”

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries wanted $100-million in restitution but it welcomed Kaplan’s judgment.

“We are fairly satisfied with the $37-million, but we hope [Bengis] won’t appeal it, so the payment will be effected as soon as possible,” said the department’s Thembalethu Vico.

Although Bengis’s activities stopped 17 years ago, damage to the coastal ecosystem was still depriving fishing communities of access to resources, he said.

Former department head of fisheries Horst Kleinschmidt, who testified in the District Court in 2004 about Bengis’s fishing activities, quoted research that suggested free-falling rock lobster stocks “immediately stabilised” after his operation was stopped.

He said yesterday that when officials discovered the extent of Bengis’s plunder “it made nonsense of any scientific inquiry” into environmental factors behind declining fish stocks.

“He hired lots of little fishermen with boats to supply him with contraband fish stocks. The decline is evident in the total allowable catch figures, which the scientists set lower and lower. Once he was caught, we realised he was a major source of that,” he said.

His fleet of trawlers overfished more than 2200t of West Coast rock lobster between 1987 and 2000. The $37-million was the proceeds of just one year, plus interest, said an Ocean and Land Resources Assessment Consultants report.South Africa will be the first foreign government to be compensated under a 117-year-old US law, the Lacey Act, which regulates imports of protected species.

Department lawyer Barnabas Xulu said it took his team six months to prepare for the case and hailed the ruling as “ground-breaking”, but conceded there could still be challenges ahead.

During arguments in court, Kaplan told Bengis’s attorney, Eric Creizman, his client “rearranged” his assets, amounting to $25-million, into a Channel Islands fund so the US government could not reach it. Source: Times Live (2017, July 21)

EcoWatch

South Africa should adopt a “shoot-to-kill” policy to show that it is serious about halting the country’s rhino poaching crisis. Like hell? Like hell, yeah!

This is the controversial view of two University of Botswana academics‚ who raised a storm by urging South Africa to adopt the highly controversial policy.

Writing in the latest issue of the SA Crime Quarterly journal‚ Goemeone Mogomotsi and Patricia Madigele argue that the policy‚ adopted in Botswana in 2013‚ was a “legitimate conservation strategy” and “a necessary evil” to protect rhinos from extinction.

Mogomotsi is a legal officer in the University of Botswana’s department of legal services‚ while Madigele is a resource economics scholar at the university’s Okavango Research Institute.

They argue that the policy has reduced poaching levels in Botswana by sending out a message that if anyone wanted to poach in South Africa’s northern neighbour‚ it was possible that “you may not go back to your country alive”.

“We believe parks are war zones and that rules and principles of war ought to be implemented‚” they argue in the journal’s special issue on environmental crime‚ published jointly by the Institute for Security Studies and the Centre of Criminology at the University of Cape Town.

Guest editor Annette Hübschle makes it clear that the journal’s publication of the shoot-to-kill proposal was not in any way an endorsement of the policy and also suggests it would not be allowed under South Africa’s constitution. Hübschle and journal editor Andrew Faull also comment that South Africa and many of its neighbours are constitutional democracies that had abolished the death penalty.

“Introducing ‘shoot-to-kill’ may catapult us back to the dark days of apartheid and colonialism where the rule of law and fair process were applied selectively; ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies target the lowest tiers of organised crime networks while the upper echelons remain untouchable‚” they said.

Mogomotsi and Madigele‚ however‚ contend that Section 49 of South Africa’s Criminal Procedure Act allowed police and other arresting authorities to use “lethal force” or “reasonably deadly force”.

 “It is hence our view that South Africa’s legislative framework allows for anti-poaching forces to be empowered to shoot at poachers if it is in the interests of their safety and the security of the endangered species. To the moralists‚ such a position is very difficult to accept; however we argue that it is a necessary evil‚ considering the obligation to protect rhinos from extinction. It appears poachers will do anything to ensure that they kill these animals‚ unless they are made aware of the possibility of their own death in the process.”

They also note that Africa’s elephant population had declined by as much as 50% from 1970 to the early 2000s‚ while the continent’s black rhino population had plummeted by 67% from 1960 to the early 2000s. They also state that Zimbabwe’s elephant population increased from 52 000 to 72 000 animals after that country adopted a shoot-to-kill policy in the later 1980s‚ adding that shoot-to-kill was “the only anti-poaching method that clearly signals that wild animals deserve to live”.

They argue that there is a real risk of rhinos becoming virtually extinct in several parts of Africa and that South Africa “seems unable to deal with sophisticated criminals‚ including poachers and wildlife trackers”.

“In light of the above‚ South Africa is encouraged to seriously consider the adoption and implementation of Botswana’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy. We believe that Botswana has demonstrated that its policies … deter poachers in general and rhino poachers in particular.”

A spokesman for Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has not responded so far to requests for comment on the controversial proposal.

However‚ senior SA National Parks rhino special projects leader Major General Johan Jooste has made it clear that he does not support such measures.

In a separate interview in SA Crime Quarterly‚ Jooste said legal officials met rangers on a regular basis to train them on the legal rules of engagement with armed poachers.

“They drill it into them that you cannot take the law into your own hands because it is not nice to see a fatality‚ nobody likes to see that. And‚ by the way‚ we don’t support shoot-to-kill‚ it will not solve the problem. It will only demean and degrade who and what we are.

“We get really emotional people who respond to the barbarity of poaching depicted in a photo‚ by saying ‘shoot them’. But we as law-abiding citizens have never given consent (to such acts)‚ no matter how angry we were.”

Jooste also told Hübschle there was no evidence that killing poachers would solve the problem.

“I have never seen (an example) where (killing poachers) helps. It is misleading when one is protecting some rhinos very well to say it’s because of ‘shoot-to-kill’.”

Jooste said he believed that law enforcement alone would not solve the horn-poaching crisis‚ though anti-poaching teams were obliged to “buy time” for now‚ while other solutions were sought at a global and regional level.

“We all wish that rhino poachers were gone so that we don’t have to live like we live. I was in Kruger (recently); we’re asking impossible things of people. The stress and emotional strain that this so-called war causes are not things we should extend one more day than is necessary.” Source: TimesLive

INTERPOL has launched a training programme on the use of digital forensics on shipborne equipment to support maritime investigations with a workshop held in Portugal.

The three-day (6-8 February) workshop saw officers from INTERPOL and the Portuguese Maritime Police test the training course, which will aid future participants to identify and understand the purpose of the main electronic equipment found on vessels; determine which equipment could potentially contain data of interest for a criminal investigation; how to extract such data from the devices; and how to organize the data to best support an investigation.

Theoretical and hands-on classroom sessions were followed by practical exercises onboard several different types of vessels in the port of Aveiro. The training programme will assist police worldwide when conducting investigations with a maritime element, such as illegal fishing, maritime piracy, drug trafficking or human trafficking.

INTERPOL’s Environmental Security programme and Digital Forensics Laboratory conducted the workshop, with support from the Maritime Police local command and the Harbour Master’s Office in the port of Aveiro. Source: INTERPOL [Pictures courtesy: Interpol]