Thank you for inviting me to join you here today.
Please allow me to begin by acknowledging the important work you all do to safeguard the rule of law across southern Africa and to recognize its linkage to the global wildlife context.
Illegal wildlife trade and other forms of transnational organized crime are a critical threat to economic development and weaken global and regional security. When we lose wildlife and security as a result of the illegal wildlife trade, we also lose tools essential for strengthening economies and fighting poverty.
Transnational wildlife crime thrives on weak governance and corruption, undermining efforts to deter criminal behavior that is linked to wildlife crime. By its very nature, illegal wildlife trade is conducted across borders. Comabatting it therefore requires regional and international cooperation.
The United States Government is strongly committed to stemming the illegal wildlife trade by focusing on domestic and global enforcement, reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife – both at home and in other countries – and expanding partnerships to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.
To underscore that commitment, on February 9, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order to strengthen enforcement of U.S. federal law in combatting transnational criminal organizations, including those dealing in wildlife crime.
In 2017, the U.S. Government also committed more than $60 million USD over five years to combat wildlife crime and promote sustainable livelihoods in southern Africa, focusing on four priority landscapes across eight countries, including the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. This investment supports regional efforts to protect wildlife and it also balances support for enforcement and prosecution with incentives to help citizens be active wildlife protectors.
Through technical assistance and partnerships with key actors, including all of you here today, we are developing innovative, trans-disciplinary approaches that strengthen enforcement and prosecutorial capacity while also building international cooperation and public-private partnerships throughout the southern African region.
This workshop was designed to assist you in developing a deeper understanding of the implications of transnational wildlife crime, the need for greater support for investigations and prosecutions in fighting it, and the need for more cooperation and collaboration among justice agencies.
I trust that your discussions this week will bear fruit as you return home and begin to work with counterparts with whom you have forged new connections here. You have covered a broad range of topics and discussed a broad spectrum of tools you can use to counter wildlife crime. These include timely sharing of information on transnational wildlife crime; enhancing legal frameworks and arrangements on mutual legal assistance; conducting digital and financial investigations; and utilizing techniques to bring justice to criminals hiding behind the barriers of sovereignty.
In closing, I thank you for your contributions and commitment to working together across national, legal, and cultural boundaries to tackle the serious threat of transnational wildlife crime and to help conserve the incredible wildlife of southern Africa for generations to come.
Let us continue to work together to raise public awareness of the negative impacts of wildlife trafficking on species, ecosystems, economies, and the rule of law. The U.S. Government shares your vision for greater regional stability, security, and economic prosperity, but none among us can achieve this vision alone. Your engagement is critical to our collective success, and I am proud to call you all colleagues in this global fight to combat wildlife crime.