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Mozambique Supreme Court makes inroads in the fight against wildlife crimes

In recent years, crimes related to wildlife and the environment have rapidly expanded in the whole Southern African region. Organized syndicates, mainly working with local counterparts, have established highly organized routes to traffic wildlife products to other regions in the world, generating significant profits.

Not only does this problem have devastating impacts on the environment, but the billions of dollars generated by this illegal business are being used to further other nefarious ends. Including money laundering and terrorism financing.

On 24 August 2022, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), through its Office based in Mozambique, supported an event organized by the Mozambican Supreme Court in Maputo aimed to launch a Benchbook for Judges on Wildlife Crimes.

Testament to increased attention towards the matter, the Benchbook was developed by a team of Supreme Court judges, in collaboration with UNODC.

The instrument is a practical tool to assist Mozambican Magistrates in the performance of their legal duties and responsibilitiesand aims to raise awareness among the judiciary about the importance of preserving the environment and wildlife in the country.

The launch event featured the participation of high-level representatives, including the Minister of Justice of Mozambique, the President of the Supreme Court, the Vice-General Prosecutor, several Judges from the Higher Courts, as well as the UNODC Country Representative and the Director-General of the USAID.

A key message stressed by all speakers present at the event was that wildlife and environmental crimes do not only bear devastating consequences on Mozambique’s rich biodiversity but negatively impact the Mozambican society at large.

“Wildlife and forest criminal networks make use of the same smuggling techniques, infrastructure, and routes used by other criminal groups. These groups rob communities of their natural resources and affect the livelihoods and food security of these populations.”, said Mr. Marco Teixeira, UNODC Country Representative.

Speakers further underscored that appropriate punishment needs to be afforded to criminals involved in the commission of such crimes. The Benchbook, in this sense, can support judges navigate existing legislation and standards to adjudicate their sentences.

This tool is, however, not the first resource of this kind. Efforts to support criminal justice responses against wildlife crime in the country in fact commenced back in 2018.

Prior to the Benchbook, UNODC partnerd with the Judicial System to develop a “Manual of Investigation and Criminal Procedure of Crimes against Wildlife”. While the resourse was intended to support the Magistrates of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PGR) with wildlife crime-related proceedings, it proved to be useful for other actors in the administration of justice and stimulated the development of the latest Manual as well as of the “National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC) Manual for Inspectors”.

The National Criminal Investigation Service (SERNIC) is also preparing to develop a Handbook for investigators. All these instruments resulted from a series of meetings between different institutions, such as PGR, SERNIC and ANAC, among others, who worked on the elaboration of its content. A number of training sessions on the material produced were also conducted.

In the past year, several Mozambican environmental and wildlife institutions, including in the fisheries sector, have further requested support from UNODC, highlighting the need to continue to enhance knowledge and understanding of related issues.