Update from the 65th CITES Standing Committee meeting

(This article was originally published in The Horn, autumn 2014. Author: Dr Richard Emslie - Scientific Officer, IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group)

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement that commenced in 1975 and is currently supported by 180 countries. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants is sustainable and does not threaten their survival.

What is a Conferences of the Parties (CoP)?

Conferences of the Parties (CoPs), are usually held every three years and are the main decision-making body of the organisation. CITES also has a Standing Committee (SC) that meets – usually annually – to provide policy guidance to the CITES Secretariat concerning implementation of the Convention and coordinate the work of the various Committees and Working Groups (WGs).

65th CITES Standing Committee meeting

The 65th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee (SC65) was held in Geneva, Switzerland from 7-11 July 2014. The meeting considered rhino reports and recommendations that had been submitted in advance by the CITES Secretariat and the CITES Rhino Working Group (RWG). In particular, the SC65 rhino recommendations focused on Mozambique and Vietnam, which have previously been identified by CITES as significant implicated states.

Mozambique

The RWG was critical of Mozambique’s limited, late and non-response to its CITES CoP16 (2013) Decisions. Other observers noted that Mozambique needed to respond appropriately and if not, then for CITES to retain credibility appropriate action would be required. The rhino recommendations approved by SC65 set out specific requirements for Mozambique.

Firstly the country has to submit a detailed national rhino action plan with timeframes and milestones by October 2014. This plan must outline the measures being taken or planned to combat illegal killing of rhinos and trade in rhino horn. Mozambique was invited to urgently implement this plan before the next SC meeting; and to provide an interim report by the end of January 2015. Mozambique also has to provide a comprehensive report on the implementation of its rhino action plan by the end of March 2015. This must include information on arrests, seizures, prosecutions and penalties for offenders.

Importantly, the approved SC65 recommendations contained a clause that allows the Secretariat, in consultation with the RWG, to draw the attention of the SC at any time to any significant issues of non-compliance with SC65 recommendations, without having to wait for the next SC meeting. Should Mozambique again fail to respond adequately, this would be a step towards possible future CITES actions which ultimately could include some form of sanctions.

Pelly Amendment sanctions

In addition, just prior to CITES SC65, the Environmental Investigation Agency and International Rhino Foundation submitted an application to US authorities calling for Pelly Amendment sanctions to be imposed on Mozambique, given its role in the escalation of rhino poaching and the country’s failure to adequately deal with the issue.

Vietnam

Vietnam was requested to provide a further progress report on several issues by the end of March 2015 for consideration at the next SC meeting. Following the international focus on Vietnam at CITES and elsewhere, the involvement of the Prime Minister and his Directive on measures for controlling and protecting endangered wild animals are welcomed.

Czech Republic pseudo-hunters

While the number of white rhino hunts in South Africa has fallen significantly following legislative changes in South Africa, the Czech Republic’s CITES Law Enforcement officers have reported that a number of Czech citizens have been involved in “proxy hunting” to illegally supply horn to Vietnam. The Czech Republic, South Africa and Vietnam were asked to each submit a comprehensive report (by March 2015) on measures taken to improve cooperation to ensure that rhino trophy hunting is not exploited by criminal groups and is not used to launder horns into illegal trade. South Africa announced that it was not issuing any more export permits to Czech and Vietnamese citizens until investigations have been completed.

To find out more about CITES visit www.cites.org