SPEAK OUT FOR ANIMALS (SOFA) held a two-day workshop in Bulawayo to train investigative officers from Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) and Forestry Investigations Officers on wildlife law. The workshop was held from the 8th to the 9th of April 2021.
Speak Out For Animals (SOFA) Founder and Director, Advocate Everlasting Vimbai Chinoda said the objective of the training is to capacitate investigations officers with the requisite legal knowledge that can aid them to combat wildlife crime in Zimbabwe.âWe prioritize the capacitation of wildlife crime investigative officers because their work can contribute immensely to the wildlife conservation efforts in Zimbabwe and in the region,â said Advocate Chinoda.
The training of investigative officers is important because their knowledge and understanding of their role can be the difference between an accused person walking free or convicted for wildlife crime. Key topics that were discussed during the workshop include the value of wildlife, the role of an investigator in combating Wildlife Crime, how to conduct proper arrests and the rights of an accused.
*Innocent Ferris Rupapa, Human Rights Lawyer specialising in Animal Law, Wildlife Crime Scene Investigations and Research Consultancy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities even further and brought to light our broken relationship with nature. The same pandemic has pushed humans to forge new and better strategies of interaction and doing business.
Travel restrictions and lockdown measures that have been imposed by nations across the world to contain the spread of Coronavirus, curtailed movement but did not stop criminal enterprises from transacting and trading wildlife products illegally obtained. During the Covid-19 induced travel restrictions there has been an increase of Wildlife criminals using online platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter to sale wildlife products. This is a clear indication that despite travel restrictions being in place, the demand for wildlife and wildlife products has not subsided.
At the 58th meeting of the CITES Conference of the parties in 2010, a resolution was adopted, among other things exhorting member states, âto establish at a national level, a unit dedicated to establishing/ investigating wildlife crime linked to the internet or incorporate wildlife trade issues into existing units that investigate or monitor computer cyber-crimeâ From that time onwards there has been growing acknowledgement, literature and concerns on Cyber Wildlife Crime. The sale of illegal wildlife has historically occurred in traditional markets but since the growth of the internet more so now forced by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is compelling evidence that wildlife traffickers are growing online to reach a vast virtual marketplace, making wildlife crime a form of cyber enabled crime
To effectively tackle wildlife cyber-crime and any cyber enabled crime it is imperative to have enforceable mechanisms that provide clearly on what constitutes cyber-crime, lawful investigations of online sales of illegal wildlife, infiltration of existing online markets, collection of relevant and admissible evidence including using digital forensics (investigatory and police powers).
In the status quo Zimbabwe does not have firm legal mechanisms to effectively tackle wildlife cybercrime mainly because the available law does not criminalise wildlife cybercrime and more-so it is limited in terms of admissibility of digital evidence. The cases of S v Morgan Tsvangirai HH 168-2004 and that of S v Roy Leslie Bennet HH 79-2010 show the extent to which electronic evidence in our country can be challenged. Be that as it may, the provisions of Cyber security and Data protection bill of 2019 are very progressive. It covers a wide scope of cyber enabled crime including wildlife cybercrime and provides guidance for investigation of cybercrime, evidence gathering, jurisdiction and admissibility of electronic/digital evidence. Itâs enactment is most awaited for because the advent of the technological age has had tremendous effect on how transactions and trade is conducted and equally it has affected the criminal justice process particularly with regards to evidence gathering and presentation.
Ever Vimbai received our International Advocates Animal Law LLM Scholarship. After the program, Ever continued in her role as the Executive Director of the organization she founded during her LLM studies - Speak Out For Animals.
âBy studying at CALS, I made a conscious and strategic decision to become an international vessel with a voice who could stand to speak and advocate for animal protection.â
Prior to joining the LLM program, she was a Legal Officer at Parks and Wildlife Management Authority in Zimbabwe. In this capacity, her work focused mainly on legislation drafting, lobbying and advocacy related to animal protection laws around Zimbabwe with both private and public stakeholders. She also monitored major cases involving wildlife trafficking, poaching, and illegal possession of ivory.
As a former prosecutor, she was well-suited to assist public prosecutors on cases involving wildlife across Zimbabwe. For example, Ever Vimbai was involved in the case involving Cecil the lion from Hwange National Park killed by the U.S. dentist, Walter Palmer.
AUTHORITIES have come up with a toolkit that is aimed at expediting the trial of people accused of committing wildlife related crimes, it has been learnt.
The kit, which was developed by Speak out for Animals (SOFA) in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, National Prosecuting Authority, police and Space for Giants, was launched at Matopos National Park on Tuesday. Speaking at the launch, secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Munesu Munodawafa said the legal guideline book will go a long way towards safeguarding Zimbabweâs wildlife.
âThis book is a positive contribution towards wildlife care. It (tool kit) comes when the Ministry is working hard on anti-poaching activities and anti-animal trafficking initiatives. Handling, detecting, investigating of animal crimes in Zimbabwe has to be taken seriously by all,â said Munodawafa.
Munodawafa said wildlife is the largest economic contributor to the tourism industry in the country and needs to be protected.âWe have to continue fighting and advocating for protection of wildlife. Let us all protect and conserve our animals and the wildlife environment,â he said.
Speaking at the same occasion, acting Prosecutor General, Nelson Mutsonziwa welcomed the kit saying it will go a long way in assisting investigators and prosecutors in carrying out their work. Mutsonziwa bemoaned the inconsistency of wild life laws in the region which he said were fuelling wildlife related crimes.
âWe have an issue with lenient sentences on wildlife criminals by our neighbouring countries. Poachers come into Zimbabwe and escape into neighbouring countries. As Sadc, if we can have uniform wildlife laws, it will reduce wildlife crimes,âMutsonziwa said.
SOFA founder, Ever Chinoda said following the launch of the guide book her organisation will from next week embark on legal awareness training for prosecutors and investigators who deal with wildlife related cases.
âThe guide will be used by investigators and prosecutors in their days to day activities of fighting wild life crimes,â said Chinoda.
Zimbabwe has in recent years experienced a boom in poaching and trafficking of wildlife to Asian countries.
SADC has been urged to harmonise laws to fight wildlife crimes to successfully eradicate poaching in the region.
Speaking during the launch of the Zimbabweâs Rapid Response Guide (RRG) toolkit on wildlife crimes at Matopo National Park on Tuesday, the acting deputy Prosecutor General, Mr Innocent Mutsonziwa, said while the country has stiffer penalties against poaching, this is not the case in some regional countries which promotes poaching even in Zimbabwe.
Speak Out for Animals, an organisation led by Mrs Ever Chinoda, brought together police, prosecutors and magistrates to come up with the toolkit. âBut sometimes we face a challenge where our neighbouring countries have lesser sentences. That is an area of debate as poachers to come into Zimbabwe and escape into those countries where sentences are very lenient. That becomes a breeding ground for poachers. A country with very lenient sentences becomes a breeding ground for poachers as they cross to where there are these animals and do their work and escape back to those countries (with lenient sentences),â he said.
âWe can have SADC uniform sentences that will go a long way in dealing with the scourge of poaching. At the moment we still have some countries with very lenient sentences. Maybe itâs because they donât have those animals but the uniform approach would help.â
Mr Mutsonziwa said while communities near national parks may view wildlife in terms of relish, they need to be educated on wildlifeâs economic value to the nation. He also said there must be professionalism among prosecutors as their duty is to ensure that justice prevails over just winning cases.
âI wish to say that prosecutors are ministers of justice and we are gate keepers to access to justice. What goes into court is determined by us, what the police give us is our stock in trade, the crime dockets. And we are responsible for making sure a good case is presented in court,â Mr Mutsonziwa said. âWhat the courts expect from us is the truth nothing else but the truth. This is about prosecution, itâs not about winning the case but is about ensuring that justice is done in that court. That is our responsibility as ministers of justice and as gate keepers to justice.â
ANIMAL protection lobby organisation, Speak Out For Animals has said it is carrying out court interventions for wildlife cases in Matabeleland Matabeleland North and South, a programme meant to combat wildlife crime in the two provinces. In an interview, Speak Out For Animals legal officer Mr Innocent Rupapa said the programme the organisation was carrying out in Matabeleland North and South was in line with the aim of raising awareness about the laws that protect wildlife to various stakeholders.
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