NGOs barred from discussion on future of ivory trade

Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Geneva, Switzerland
Civil society bodies have been barred from discussions on the future of the ivory trade, at yesterday’s meeting at the 61st meeting of the CITES (Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species) Standing Committee.

Acting of behalf of unnamed Asian countries, Kuwait requested that all members of civil society be removed from the room to allow for a closed-door discussion.

The agenda had called for a discussion on an ivory decision-making mechanism, on elephant management and conservation, and on poaching and illegal ivory trade. The mechanism is meant to become a means to facilitate the international sale of ivory.

Kenya and the UK challenged the expulsions on the grounds of transparency and because Non-Governmental Organisations often have the greatest knowledge and expertise of the threats to elephants.

“NGOs work on the ground wherever elephants are found to try and save them from poaching and habitat loss,” said Peter Pueschel, Programme Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org)., who was among those asked to leave the meeting. “We know the threats they face, we work with range states to end those threats but I cannot think of a bigger threat right now than a secret, closed-door meeting between countries where demand for ivory is the driver.”

As an IGO the EU Commission were also asked to leave the meeting but this was subsequently rescinded at the behest of the British Government.

The vote on whether the NGOs should be forced to leave was seven in favour and six against with three abstentions.

The purported reason for a closed-door discussion is that documents of a sensitive nature would be discussed. However all discussion documents had been previously posted to the CITES website. One document was a report by ETIS (Elephant Trade Information System) which clearly stated that seizures of illegal ivory had increased dramatically in 2009 and 2010 subsequent to a legal sale of ivory to China and Japan in 2008.

“Any discussion of an ivory decision-making mechanism is a distraction from the real debate on how to save elephants. We’ve seen an undisputable link between one-off ivory sales and illegal ivory – the experiment was tried and it failed. What we need now is a discussion on how we strengthen and support an international ban on ivory,” Pueschel said.

After the lunch break Norway raised a “Point of Order” to explain that they had language problems and did not understand the vote on whether to include or exclude NGOs. Therefore a new vote about closing the session was held. Botswana, Kuwait and Dominica voted to keep the discussions closed while eight countries voted to include NGOs: Egypt, DRC, Norway, Ukraine, Bulgaria, UK, USA, Australia. Five countries abstained from voting: Uganda, Iran, Japan, Columbia and Costa Rica.

With a successful vote for transparency and openness NGOs were welcomed back into the meeting and participated in the afternoon’s discussions on the ivory trade.

NOTES to Editors;

In the last five financial years IFAW has spent nearly USD $9.5 million across Asia and Africa protecting elephants from habitat loss and on anti-poaching efforts

According to a survey of ivory markets in Guangzhou, China released last week there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of ivory items since 2004 and almost two thirds (63 per cent) of those items lack the mandatory paperwork declaring them to be legal. Privately-owned raw ivory is currently selling for over €500/kg in Guangzhou making the illegal ivory trade extremely lucrative.

IFAW advocates that discussions should instead focus on the top three priorities of the African Elephant Action Plan (AEAP) of:
-Reduce illegal killing of elephants and illegal trade in elephant products
-Maintain elephant habitats and restore connectivity
-Reduce human-elephant conflict

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