Under Secretary Sewall’s Remarks at the Multilateral Wildlife Trafficking Workshop in Bogor

As Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Human Rights, and Democracy, I am pleased to be able to participate in this workshop for a number of reasons.

I oversee the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), which has long partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Indonesian Attorney General’s Office’s Natural Resources Crimes Task Force to tackle environmental crime, including wildlife trafficking.

As Under Secretary, I am also the U.S. co-chair for the Democracy and Civil Society Working Group under the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership.  Under this framework, we have been working to increase triangular cooperation initiatives, of which this workshop is an example.

Last, but by no means least, my participation underscores that, as our National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking states, wildlife trafficking is a serious and urgent conservation and global security threat for you, for the United States, for the world.

When President Obama released the Executive Order for Combating Wildlife Trafficking in July 2013, he stated, “Poaching operations have expanded beyond small-scale opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates.”

Criminals involved in wildlife trafficking thrive in places where law enforcement lacks necessary resources, where corruption is systemic, and where capacities for detecting, prosecuting, and dismantling illicit networks are not adequately developed or otherwise lacking.

On February 11, President Obama released the U.S. National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, which represents the efforts of over 17 government agencies and sets three strategic priorities:  strengthening enforcement, reducing demand, and building international cooperation.

As President Obama notes in his introduction to our National Strategy, “Like other forms of illicit trade, wildlife trafficking undermines security across nations.  Well-armed, well-equipped, and well-organized networks of criminals and corrupt officials exploit porous borders and weak institutions to profit from trading in poached wildlife. Record high demand for wildlife products, coupled with inadequate preventative measures and weak institutions has resulted in an explosion of illicit trade in wildlife in recent years.”

Increasingly, wildlife trafficking is intertwined with other illicit activities that undermine national security and economic prosperity.  Organized criminal networks are attracted to wildlife trafficking for its profitability, comparatively small risk of detection and prosecution, and light fines and jail sentences.  The illegal trade in wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horn is estimated to total between $8-10 billion annually.

Combating wildlife trafficking requires collaborative actions and cooperation among governments as well as civil society, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.

One of the first international actions following our National Strategy’s release came six days later, on February 17, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signed a Memorandum of Understanding to Conserve Wildlife and Combat Wildlife Trafficking with Indonesian Minister of Forestry Zulkifli Hasan.  Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was instrumental in concluding this agreement and hosted the momentous occasion.

In April 2013, at the UN Crime Commission, the United States and Peru introduced a resolution on wildlife trafficking which encourages member states to treat wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime” pursuant to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC).  Ultimately, the resolution was adopted with over 20 countries, including Indonesia, co-sponsoring it.  In July 2013, the UN Economic and Social Council adopted the resolution, further elevating it as a security issue within the UN.

The United States also continues to partner with regional organizations to take bold action on combating wildlife trafficking and related crimes such as corruption and money laundering, such as through APEC’s Pathfinder initiative, an APEC partnership with ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum on combating corruption and illicit trade.

Since 2004, the Department of State has been pleased to work with Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries to establish and strengthen the ASEAN regional wildlife enforcement network.  Since that time, the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development have invested $16 million to combat wildlife trafficking through the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network and Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) programs.

On January 12, during a global wildlife enforcement operation, and capacity-building effort, that included law enforcement officials from Indonesia, the United States, China and 25 other African and Asian countries, authorities made over 400 arrests of wildlife criminals and 350 major wildlife seizures, including, in Hong Kong, the rescue of more than 2,000 rare Indonesian turtles that were repatriated on February 13.

These successes demonstrate the importance of working together on wildlife trafficking issues and what our cooperation can achieve.

Ultimately, the success of this workshop and the three that will follow depends on the participants.  As professional investigators and prosecutors, you serve a very important role.  Take the opportunity of this workshop to build relationships and discuss how you can best work together – through information sharing and collaboration on enforcement efforts – to combat wildlife trafficking.