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Rhino trade kingpins to be named in public trial

A tray of rhino horn ornaments on sale on the outskirts of the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. This image was captured by undercover investigators from the Dutch-based Wildlife Justice Commission

A tray of rhino horn ornaments on sale on the outskirts of the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. This image was captured by undercover investigators from the Dutch-based Wildlife Justice Commission

Published Sep 19, 2016


Durban - The names of more than 50 Vietnamese nationals allegedly driving the killing of South Africa’s rhinos and other global wildlife crimes will be revealed at a “public trial” streamed live on the internet.

This follows the apparent reluctance of the Vietnamese government to prosecute and shut down a wildlife trafficking network based in a village on the outskirts of Hanoi.

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The Wildlife Justice Commission, a non-government group set up last year to help shut down transnational wildlife criminal groups, has announced that it would reveal the identity of 51 Vietnamese suspects at a public hearing from November 14-15 in The Hague, Netherlands.

This follows a year-long investigation into trafficking in the village of Nhi Khe and the alleged discovery of hundreds of trinkets and wildlife products linked to the killing of rhinos, elephants, tigers, bears, pangolins, turtles and hornbills.

Though the Wildlife Justice Commission has no international legal authority, the results of its investigations would be presented to an accountability panel that includes three experienced international judges.

The five panel members appointed include Canadian judge, Justice Philippe Kirsch, QC, the former president of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Other members include Judge Diego Garcia-Sayan, a former Justice and Foreign Affairs Minister of Peru, currently a sitting judge on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and Justice Isaac Lenaola, president of the Constitution and Human Rights Division of the High Court of Kenya and deputy principal judge of the East Africa Court of Justice.

The other two are British journalist Misha Glenny and Edgardo Buscaglia, a professor in organised crime and corruption.

Wildlife Justice Commission head Olivia Swaak-Goldman said: “We have provided the Vietnamese authorities a detailed case file with everything necessary to prosecute these criminals.

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“We have offered assistance and worked with stakeholders to encourage the Vietnamese authorities to act, but so far to no avail. Our evidence shows that an amount of rhino horn equivalent to nearly half the rhinos poached annually in South Africa transits this village.”

She said a 5 000-page map of facts (investigation docket) was sent to Vietnamese authorities nine months ago, but the government had failed to take action against those identified.

“We have no choice but to present our evidence in a global public forum. We are confident that the impartial, international experts on the accountability panel will validate our findings and recommend action.”

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The Vietnamese Embassy in South Africa did not respond to requests for comment.

The commission claims it found wildlife parts and products thought to originate from as many as 579 rhinos, 907 elephants and 225 tigers.

It was not clear how commission investigators reached this conclusion without DNA evidence or whether some of the multiple rhino horn ornaments found may have in fact been shaped from a smaller number of rhino horns.

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Nevertheless, the commission said it also hoped to call South African expert witnesses to testify at the hearings, which would be streamed live on its website (

Swaak-Goldman - a former official of the International Criminal Court - said a separate docket had been presented to Chinese authorities earlier this year, detailing evidence of the involvement of Chinese nationals in wildlife trafficking.

“Despite the overwhelming body of evidence, and extensive diplomatic outreach, the Vietnamese government has failed to take decisive action to close down this criminal network.

“While we have observed that Vietnamese authorities have taken some steps to address the illegal open trade in Nhi Khe, our investigators found that behind closed doors and on social media all the key traders are still active. Moreover, crime has displaced to other locations near Nhi Khe and north of Hanoi.

“In contrast, authorities in China - the main market for these products - have indicated they are taking this case seriously. The Wildlife Justice Commission welcomes their willingness to act.”

Last week, South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa confirmed that at least 702 rhinos had been poached nationwide so far this year.

The conservation group WWF has added to the pressure on Vietnam for failing to crack down on the “rampant” illegal trade in rhino horns in that country.

“Vietnam’s poor law enforcement record speaks for itself: ending the illegal rhino horn trade and helping to save Africa’s rhino is clearly not a priority for the government,” WWF spokeswoman Ginette Henley said last week.

The Mercury

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