What eventually became The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) began with fits and starts in the early 20th century. Then the Nazis and disturbing fellows like Reinhard Heydrick, Chief Executor of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” took control and diluted its vigor as a non-partisan organization devoted to rooting out international crime.
After 1945, Interpol rose up from the ashes and has since become the second largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations. Such villainy as child pornography, drug and human trafficking, and genocide all fall under their purview. In a sign of just how serious they are, during the recent 79th General Assembly in Qatar, Interpol resolved to place a renewed emphasis on “green crimes.”
Until now, despite certain legal frameworks such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), environmental crimes have not been as well regulated as others.
“Because of poor monitoring, relatively low risks and the prospects of big money, the environment has become a safe target for crime gangs whose more traditional activities include crimes such as drug trafficking and extortion,” according to AFP journalist Michel Moutot.
Species are going extinct at the fastest rate since the dinosaurs walked the planet due in large measure to crime syndicates that are making a killing (not punny?) from the proceeds of animal parts, ivory, and horns. In the Middle East, for example, Peregrine Falcons are prized for sport, though it is illegal to engage in their trade, and Yemeni fishermen are notorious for hacking off shark fins in the Red Sea.
A former police officer, Scotsman John Sellar is pleased with the long-awaited resolution.
“People don’t imagine the kind of money involved in wildlife trafficking. They still too often believe that local poachers go out and shoot whatever they can find, when in fact you have real networks of professional criminals getting organised to kill and ship wildlife on a massive scale,” Sellar told AFP.
CITES secretary general John Scanlon said the resolution “sends a very strong message to those who seek to rob countries of their natural resources that the global law enforcement community recognises that it must work together, led by Interpol, to bring these environmental criminals to justice,” according to Mr. Moutot.
Like drug trafficking, environmental crimes cross borders and therefore require international cooperation in order to bring their perpetrators to justice. Interpol is well equipped to provide administrative assistance to local law enforcement officials and facilitate liaisons across jurisdictions. But their work is not easy.
Mr. Moutot wrote that “in 2005, the Australian Navy intercepted a European-flagged ship that was fishing for Patagonian toothfish, a critically endangered and rare species worth a fortune on the black market.”
“The Australian navy pursued these people from the coast of Australia half way to South Africa and caught them. It indicates how much money is involved: these people are ready to go all the way down to the other side of the earth to harvest these fish,” the Head of Interpol’s Environmental Crime Program, David Higgins, told AFP.
With so much money to gain, and a history of poor enforcement, criminals are willing to risk being captured (and relegated to a prison cell for which the keys are miraculously lost?) Their time may be up.
More on environmental crimes: