The UN Security Council: An accidental wildlife conservation group
Adam Cruise
2 Feb 2014

Geneva, Switzerland – The UN Security Council has just adopted two resolutions that specifically targets illegal wildlife trafficking, especially elephant ivory. The resolutions – numbers 2136 and 2134 – are aimed directly at armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic that are causing gross human rights violations as well as, by extension, global terrorist organizations that are benefitting from the illegal trade. The Security Council can from now enforce sanctions such as arms embargos, travel bans and asset freezes to groups and individuals that are complicit in illegal wildlife trade. The UN Security Council have become an unlikely conservationist body primarily because an environmental issue has turned into a major security threat.

Environmentalists are applauding the move as this finally gives international law enforcement officials the means to counter the unprecedented rates of poaching, especially elephants, where almost 100 are illegally slaughtered for their tusks every day.

“It’s a huge step forward,” said Wendy Elliott speaking from the WWF offices here. Wildlife traffickers “are funding the armed groups that are causing the human rights violations.” She explains that the rampant poaching by armed militia has always been “treated as an environmental issue”, which never worked. Now at least, it’s a security issue, which means there is an urgency to curbing the problem.

The British Government, which hosts a conference on illicit wildlife trafficking this month, applauded the Security Council for approving a “sanctions regime, which includes targeting those who fuel instability by illegally exploiting wildlife.”

In their report, the UN councillors said the slaughter of elephants in the DRC “is one of the most tragic consequences of years of war and poor governance”. In Garamba National Park, a census showed fewer than 2 000 elephants were left in 2012, compared to 22 000 a decade earlier. The report goes on to say that Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army – which originates from Uganda and has waged one of Africa’s most brutal rebellions that has included the use of child soldiers – maintains bases in the park. In a report last year, UN 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 expelled them from their country.

The LRA is not the only group targeted. In May last year 26 elephants were slaughtered in the Central African Republic by armed rebels threatening to overthrow the government of that country. Hilary Clinton, who pledged $80 billion from the USA in fighting elephant poaching, has on more than one occasion blamed terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda units in Africa, for obtaining funding received directly from illegal ivory sales. Clinton also has explicitly linked the Nairobi Westgate Mall terrorist attack by the extremist Al-Shabaab group with rampant elephant poaching in the CAR. A source from the Elephant Action league was quoted a saying that “al-Shabaab’s funding has been, and is still, from ivory”. The ivory is often shipped out from Somalia to the East earning the group, according to Britain’s Daily Mail, more than $600,000 per month.

Importantly, the new resolutions will apply equally to countries where demand is highest. This means that groups and individuals in Asia could get punished with sanctions for elephants poached in Africa, if a link with the terrorist groups can be established.

Elliot warns that a major challenge in implementing sanctions will be proving the connection between poachers, traffickers and armed groups. “There are a lot of wildlife traffickers who are not providing funding to armed groups,” she said. “I imagine that establishing the connection is a challenge but it can be done.”

The UN Security resolutions, two of just four this year, makes the council an accidental global conservation body. It’s the first time that animals other than humans have been considered in the world’s peace efforts, and the Security Council could in the future become one of the most effective conservationist bodies providing an unlikely guardian to the beleaguered African wildlife.