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UNICRI joins Nature Crime Alliance amid growing focus on illegal mining

The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) has joined the Nature Crime Alliance to further its mandate to channel innovative ideas from within and outside the United Nations system.

UNICRI works in specialised niches and selected areas related to crime prevention, criminal justice, security governance, counter-terrorism, and the risks and benefits of technological advances. Headquartered in Italy, the Institute has a strong focus on nature crime, particularly the illegal extraction of minerals – an activity that threatens to grow more frequent amid the global energy transition.

Since 1998, UNICRI has been at the forefront of addressing crimes against nature and the planet by enhancing knowledge, building capacities, and shaping legal reforms, including defining crimes against the environment. The Institute has led numerous international projects to prevent and combat such offenses, with a specific focus on illegal mining and the trafficking of precious metals, as well as mitigating risks associated with the illicit trafficking of e-waste, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials. UNICRI is also addressing the role of climate insecurity in exacerbating local conflicts and violent extremism, aiming to strengthen the resilience of governments and civil society.

These offenses severely degrade air, water, and soil quality, adversely affecting human health, endangering species, triggering disasters, and depriving communities of essential resources, thereby posing significant threats to peace, safety, and development.

Leif Villadsen, Acting Director of UNICRI, emphasized the importance of the partnership with the Nature Crime Alliance, commenting: “We are grateful for this crucial partnership. The intricate relationship between environmental crimes and other criminal activities, such as financial crimes and supply chain violations, requires detailed analysis, enhanced training, and a coordinated international response. Our collaboration with the Alliance is crucial to effectively tackle the challenges of nature crime, develop innovative solutions, raise awareness, and amplify the impact of our joint strategies, particularly in combating illegal mining.”

UNICRI becomes the latest international organisation to join the Alliance, which also includes the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, INTERPOL, and the UN Environment Programme. The Institute has a deep involvement with nature crime issues, running an annual ‘winter school’ on environmental crime.

Yulia Stange, Director of the Nature Crime Alliance Secretariat, commented: “UN bodies represent an essential forum for positive change on nature crime, so we are delighted to welcome UNICRI into the Alliance to strengthen our network’s engagement with UN processes and to develop research-based solutions to key issues.

“The Institute’s increasing research focus on illegal mining offers particular synergies with the Alliance’s activities, and we look forward to making progress on this key challenge together.”

The Nature Crime Alliance is a global, multi-sector network that increases political will, mobilises financial commitment, and bolsters operational capacity to fight nature crime. The Secretariat is hosted by the World Resources Institute, with participation from UNODC.

View all members of the Nature Crime Alliance

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WATCH: Meet the Nature Crime Alliance #2

The online ivory trade in the EU, illegal gold mining in the Amazon, and the role of US transnational whistleblower laws in fighting environmental crime were all explored during the second edition of the ‘Meet the Nature Crime Alliance’ webinar series.

Eugénie Pimont, Wildlife Cybercrime Officer at IFAW, presented findings from the recent report, ‘The Elephant in the Net: Research snapshot of the online ivory trade after the adoption of the new EU rules’, which highlights how ivory is still being widely sold in several European countries despite tougher rules being introduced across the EU in 2022 aimed at limiting the trade. Eugénie’s presentation (see slides here) was a stark reminder of the challenges posed by online marketplaces in the context of nature crime – something the Alliance is focusing on in its supply chain choke points workstream.

If you’d like to know more about IFAW’s work in this area, you can reach Eugénie at: epimont@ifaw.org

Turning to South America, Matt Finer and Nadia Mamani from Amazon Conservation Association shared insights from their ‘Monitoring the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), with a focus on illegal gold mining in Peru. Matt, the Director of MAAP, showed that gold mining in the region takes place in several different contexts, while Nadia, Senior GIS and Remote Sensing Specialist, provided insights on how Amazon Conservation is working with local communities to bring their findings to the attention of law enforcement. You can reach Matt and Nadia at: mfiner@amazonconservation.org and nmamani@amazonconservation.org respectively.

The session also heard from Steve Kohn, Founding Partner at KKC and Chair of the National Whistleblower Center, who shared his perspectives on how existing US transnational whistleblower laws can be used for effective nature crime enforcement. Steve stressed the value of these laws in prosecuting and deterring perpetrators of nature crime, but noted that this value is widely unknown among many stakeholders. This includes the potential funding available for CSOs through successful prosecutions and sanction revenue. See Steve’s slides here. Contact Steve at: stephen.kohn@kkc.com.

The ‘Meet the Nature Crime Alliance’ webinar series aims to showcase Alliance members in short, concise sessions that can spark future engagement. This session, which took place on 29 May, also featured an update from the Alliance Director, Yulia Stange.

If your organisation is an Alliance member and you would like to take part in future webinars, please contact luke.foddy@wri.org

Watch the first edition of the webinar series, featuring Earth League International, Wildlife Justice Commission and Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, here.  

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Webinar: Meet the Nature Crime Alliance #2

The second edition of the ‘Meet the Nature Crime Alliance’ webinar takes place on Wednesday 29 May at 10am ET / 4pm CET.

Eugénie Pimont from the International Fund for Animal Welfare will present findings from the recent report, ‘The Elephant in the Net: Research snapshot of the online ivory trade after the adoption of the new EU rules’.

Matt Finer and Nadia Mamani from Amazon Conservation Association will share insights from their work mapping illegal gold mining in Peru.

And Steve Kohn, National Whistleblower Center, will share his perspectives on how existing US transnational whistleblower reward laws are being utilised for effective nature crime enforcement.

We hope you can join us.

Register here

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ILP bolsters Alliance’s work to broaden legal support for frontline defenders

A key aim of the Nature Crime Alliance is to bolster capacity for frontline defenders, including Indigenous Peoples and local communities, who often have limited access to costly legal representation. To help develop solutions to this challenge, the Alliance has welcomed the International Lawyers Project (ILP), as its latest member.

Based in London but supporting communities around the world, ILP advances economic and environmental justice and the rule of law through the provision of pro bono legal expertise to civil society, communities, and governments. Its vision is a sustainable world in which law serves as a tool for those who need it the most.

As part of its membership in the Alliance, ILP will draw on its extensive expertise utilising different legal tools and remedies to tackle environmental crimes, for example, advising on the use of sanctions for wildlife trafficking organised crime groups or conducting legal reviews of regulatory frameworks to ensure prevention and detection of environmental crimes. The Alliance platform will also help serve as a ‘dot connector’ between ILP’s pro bono services and those who need them.

Lucy Claridge, ILP’s Executive Director, said “We are acutely aware of the increasing convergence of corruption and environmental degradation. Corrupt actors exploit ineffective fiscal policies and weak environmental laws, providing fertile ground for illicit activities to flourish, resulting in environmental harm that disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable communities, particularly in the Global South. Legal tools and remedies are increasingly effective in holding responsible parties accountable for environmental crimes and empowering communities to seek better governance of natural resources”.

In addition to ILP’s contribution to solutions developed by the Alliance, the organisation will also form part of a legal resources database being developed by the Alliance Secretariat. This resource will help civil society, Indigenous Peoples and local communities find legal expertise relevant to their needs.

Yulia Stange, Director of the Nature Crime Alliance Secretariat, said: “Ensuring that frontline defenders and other organisations fighting nature crime have access to justice and legal support is a key tenet of the Nature Crime Alliance. We’re extremely excited by the potential opportunities arising for people, planet and justice through ILP’s membership.”

View all members of the Nature Crime Alliance

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Alliance convenes multi-sector insights on financial crime linked to forestry crime

Strategies for disrupting financial crime related to forestry crime were explored during a session hosted by the Nature Crime Alliance at the Forest Governance and Policy Conference 2024 (FGP24).

The Alliance Secretariat brought together thought leaders from government, law enforcement, civil society and the private sector for the session, which convened during FGP24 in Washington DC, hosted by WRI.

Moderated by Lynn Schlingemann, Senior Associate, Financial Crime and Corruption, Nature Crime Alliance Secretariat, the audience heard from Rowena Watson, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Sanctions Coordination, US Department of State, who shared insights on the role of sanctions in tackling forestry crimes. This included a case study from the Central African Republic involving Wagner Group activity related to illegal timber.

Paul Hackett, AML Advisor, UNODC, presented on his work supporting law enforcement efforts in Peru, while Nick Schumann from HSBC spoke on the value of public-private partnerships in identifying and disrupting financial crime related to nature crime.

Julia Yansura, Program Director for Environmental Crime and Illicit Finance at the FACT Coalition, shared some takeaways from FACT’s recent report, Dirty Money and the Destruction of the Amazon, highlighting how proceeds of criminal activities in the Amazon are entering the US financial system. And legislation was also a focus, with Scott Greytak, Director of Advocacy, Transparency International US, sharing his thoughts on the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act and its implications for forestry crime.

Watch the session in full

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Nature Crime Alliance events at Forest Government and Policy Conference 2024  

The Nature Crime Alliance Secretariat is hosting two sessions at the upcoming Forest Governance and Policy Conference (FGP24), which convenes in Washington DC on 29 April.

The conference is bringing together a range of actors working on issues across the forestry sector, including illegal logging, recent legislation, and tools and technology to support forest management.

Financial crime linked to forestry crime

The Alliance Secretariat is convening officials from the US State Department and UNODC, along with thought leaders from Transparency International, the FACT Coalition, and HSBC to explore strategies for tackling financial crime linked to forestry crime. Lynn Schlingemann, Senior Associate, Financial Crime and Corruption, Nature Crime Alliance, will be moderating the session, which takes place on Wednesday 1 May, 11:00am to 12:30pm ET.

Speakers include:

Rowena Watson, Office of Sanctions Coordination, US Department of State
Paul Hackett, Global Programme against Money Laundering, UNODC
Scott Greytak, Transparency International
Julia Yansura, FACT Coalition
Nick Schumann, HSBC
Lynn Schlingemann, Nature Crime Alliance (Moderator)

Introduction to the Nature Crime Alliance

The Alliance Secretariat will also be hosting a side event on Tuesday 30 April aimed at those with limited knowledge of the Alliance and its work. The side event, which takes place 10:30am to 11:30am, will present an excellent opportunity to learn more about the Alliance and its aims, as well as the wider need for multi-sector collaboration to fight nature crime.

Speakers include:

Yulia Stange, Nature Crime Alliance Secretariat
Christine Dawson, OES, US Department of State
Raphael Edou, Environmental Investigation Agency
Chip Barber, WRI (Moderator)

FGP24 is primarily an in-person conference, although the main sessions, including the convening on financial crime, will be streamed online. The Alliance side event will not be streamed.

The conference takes place at the World Resources Institute offices, Washington DC.

Find out more and register for FGP24 here.

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WITA brings expertise on law enforcement and local community engagement to the Alliance

The Wildlife Investigators Training Alliance (WITA) has joined the Nature Crime Alliance to bolster efforts to support actors on the frontline of wildlife crime.  

Headquartered in the US, WITA fights transnational wildlife crime across sub-Saharan Africa and Central and South America through training programmes, investigation support, and equipment donations. According to its website, WITA has trained more than 2,500 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges since 2018 in best practices for the prevention, detection, deterrence, investigation, prosecution and adjudication of transnational wildlife crimes.

Steph Durno Karns, Executive Director of WITA, said: “Collaboration between civil society organisations and governments is necessary in the fight to dismantle transnational criminal networks that seek to exploit the world’s natural resources. WITA is honoured to join the Nature Crime Alliance and supports its mission.

“WITA is comprised of lifelong wildlife law enforcement professionals who are passionate about supporting their dedicated brothers and sisters who work tirelessly to protect our wildlife, fisheries, and forests for generations to come.”   

Through the Nature Crime Alliance, WITA will engage with aligned organisations to share information and best practice and develop new collaborations. Drawing on their extensive work with rangers, WITA can share insights on successful conservation strategies and the importance of fostering positive relationships between law enforcement and local communities.

The need for greater collaboration in this area is consistently raised in international fora, according to Yulia Stange, Director of the Nature Crime Alliance. “We repeatedly hear from stakeholders across our network that there is a need for stronger cooperation with, and support for, law enforcement, rangers, investigators, prosecutors, and judges,” Yulia said.

“WITA has shown the value in building positive relationships and offering targeted trainings to bolster the capacity of those who are risking their lives to protect our precious wildlife and natural resources. We are grateful to have WITA in the Alliance and look forward to the collaborations to come.”

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IFAW joins Alliance to bolster “shared mission” of ending nature crime  

The Nature Crime Alliance has welcomed the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) as its latest member.   

IFAW is a global non-profit committed to helping animals and people thrive together. It works to rescue, rehabilitate and release animals, and restore and protect their natural habitats. This work is extremely relevant to the Nature Crime Alliance, which brings together actors fighting crimes that damage wildlife and habitat, such as illegal forms of logging, mining, and wildlife trade.  

Polen Cisneros, Wildlife Crime Program Manager, IFAW, said: “IFAW recognises the urgency and gravity of nature crime and is enthusiastic about aligning our efforts with the Nature Crime Alliance.  

“By working collectively, we believe we can amplify our impact, strengthen global initiatives, and pave the way for a world where nature is safeguarded from criminal activities. We look forward to contributing our expertise, resources, and passion to the shared mission of ending nature crime and preserving the rich biodiversity of our planet for future generations.”  

IFAW joins a range of actors within the Alliance that focus on animal welfare, with the Alliance Secretariat facilitating engagement between members to co-create solutions to this critical issue.  

Yulia Stange, Director of the Alliance, said: “Nature crimes such as illegal logging and wildlife trafficking threaten species and ecosystems and undermine our global biodiversity goals. IFAW is doing great work to protect animals affected by these activities, and to create systems that result in more harmonious conditions between animals and people. We are pleased they are on board and are excited by the knowledge they can share with our members.”  

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Nature crime whistleblowers recognised as NWC joins Alliance

The National Whistleblower Center (NWC) has joined the Nature Crime Alliance to strengthen its work protecting and incentivising whistleblowers who report environmental crimes.

As a leading nonprofit dedicated to protecting and rewarding whistleblowers around the world, NWC helps assist whistleblowers in finding legal aid, advocate for stronger whistleblower protection laws, and educate the public about whistleblowers’ critical role in protecting democracy and the rule of law.

“Combatting nature crime is impossible without whistleblowers, but strategies to combat nature crimes fail to fully deploy proven best-practice whistleblower programs,” Siri Nelson, Executive Director at NWC, said.

“We need to flip the risk-dynamic for nature-crime whistleblowers by establishing laws and reporting mechanisms which protect the anonymity of whistleblowers and incentivize whistleblowers to come forward by providing large monetary rewards. Under this model, whistleblowers can become the biggest asset to those fighting nature crime.”

By joining the Alliance, NWC will engage with members from across different sectors to develop solutions to support individuals who expose and highlight the illegal exploitation of nature.

Yulia Stange, Director of the Alliance, commented: “Whistleblowers play a crucial role in exposing nature crime, often at extreme personal risk. By working with NWC, we hope we can build the support systems needed to encourage and protect whistleblowers which, in turn, will lead to more prosecutions of the perpetrators of these crimes.”

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Ghana joins the Nature Crime Alliance to bolster capacity on forestry protection

Ghana has joined the Nature Crime Alliance – a global, multi-sector network that aims to raise political will, mobilise financial commitment, and bolster operational capacity to fight nature crime.

With extensive forests and a thriving fishing industry, Ghana shares some of the same challenges that many countries face – the criminal exploitation of natural resources. Illegal gold mining is a particular focus of concern. By joining the Nature Crime Alliance, Ghana will gain access to a global network committed to finding solutions to these challenges.

Speaking on joining the Alliance, John Allotey, Chief Executive of Ghana’s Forestry Commission, said: “Ghana takes the issue of nature crime extremely seriously. We are committed to protecting our natural resources and the communities that depend on them.

“These crimes are global crimes, and need a global response. That’s why we’re pleased to be joining the Nature Crime Alliance to bolster our capacity and build the relationships that are essential in fighting these crimes.”

WATCH: Chief Executive Allotey also spoke at the Alliance’s official UNEA-6 side event

Yulia Stange, Director of the Nature Crime Alliance, commented: “We’re delighted to welcome Ghana into the Nature Crime Alliance as it works to combat the challenges of illegal logging, mining, and fishing, which are found in many countries around the world. We’re looking forward to leveraging the expertise and resources within the Alliance to develop solutions together and in support of Ghana’s efforts to fight nature crime, as well as the learnings that Ghana can impart to Alliance members.”

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