U.S. Hosted Side Event: 23rd UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

U.S. Hosted Side Event Remarks
United States of America
23rd UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

Vienna, Austria

Good afternoon and welcome. I want to thank you all for coming here today to participate in the U.S.-sponsored side event, “International Cooperation to Combat Criminal Elements in Timber Trafficking”. Every two seconds, an area of forest the size of an [American] football field is being cut down by illegal loggers somewhere in the world. The illicit trafficked timber and forest products transit oceans and continents on a global scale. This lucrative, illicit criminal activity robs governments of an estimated $10-15 billion annually through tax revenue losses.

Illegal logging destroys valuable forest ecosystems and the wildlife that depends on them, undermines legitimate commerce, fuels conflict, and has serious economic and environmental consequences.

For more than a decade, the United States has been pleased to collaborate with many of your countries to keep profits out of the hands of illegal logging criminals while supporting our shared climate change, biodiversity, and sustainable development goals.

Who is involved in this activity? Recent research shows that sophisticated, ruthless organized criminal organizations are involved in illicit timber trafficking.

These are sometimes the same criminal enterprises that smuggle drugs and traffic in human beings. In other words, this is not only a conservation issue. This is a billion-dollar criminal activity and it is important that we discuss it here during the United Nations Crime Commission. Criminals involved in timber trafficking thrive in places where law enforcement lacks necessary resources, where corruption is systemic, and where capacities for detecting, prosecuting, and dismantling illicit networks are not adequately developed or otherwise are lacking.

To successfully address this problem requires a holistic approach—one that spans across sectors and national borders.

To that end, the U.S. government and many of our partners here today have been engaged for more than a decade to raise the profile in bilateral, regional, and multilateral fora. We support these efforts through domestic legislation, international agreements, such as CITES, and multilateral organizations, such as the International Tropical Timber Organization. Regionally, we are engaged in the APEC Experts Group on Illegal Logging and Associated Trade and the Responsible Asian and Forestry Trade initiative.

By placing trafficking in timber within the context of our broader goals of combating corruption, dismantling transnational organized criminal networks, and promoting the rule of law, we can enforce our laws, prosecute criminals, and put an end to this crime. Our goal this week is to build an international consensus to define the illicit trafficking in timber and forest as a serious crime. The U.S. and Norway [Indonesia and Peru] have co-sponsored a resolution this year on combating illicit trafficking in timber and forest products, which encourages Member States to criminalize trafficking in these products as a serious crime, with adequate penalties. This is a necessary step to develop cooperation among our nations to combat these crimes.

Finally, we encourage nations to enhance law enforcement capacities to better enable effective law enforcement responses, and take full advantage of the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) as a framework for international cooperation.

Civil society also has an important role to play. Non-governmental organizations are, in many instances, the first to shine the spotlight on timber trafficking. We commend these organizations for their tireless efforts on the ground and their unfaltering commitment. International organizations are also actively working to develop tools to strengthen the ability of national governments to respond to this threat, such as UNODC’s Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytical Toolkit.

We will now turn to an excellent panel of experts from international and non-governmental organizations, as well as the U.S. government who will discuss innovative ways to strengthen law enforcement and criminal justice capacities to combat this crime. If time permits, we will then take a few questions. Thank you for your time and attention to this serious matter.