Conference recommends reforms for wildlife crime justice

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By A Staff Reporter,Lalitpur, Feb. 19: Data from Nepal's courts in the last fiscal year (2022/23) reveals that 14 of 16 verdicts on forest and wildlife crimes convicted poor indigenous communities and only two persons were acquitted.

The experts, at a conference on ‘Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Justice’ that concluded on Saturday here, recommended integrating wildlife crime investigations and prosecutions into the legal framework with a focus on targeting only those involved.

They also suggested enacting specific forest-related laws, especially in countries like Nepal where indigenous communities are often targeted. 

Discussions were centred on indigenous communities' rights to natural resources and the importance of judges taking environmental issues seriously.

Additionally, they also called for strict penalties for counterfeit hunting permits and for revising forest laws to prevent human rights violations. 

Embracing advanced technologies in wildlife crime investigations is seen as crucial, along with implementing high-quality research methods, they said.  Additionally, they stressed the need for capacity-building training programmes to enhance the skills of researchers involved investigations.

The joint conference organised by the Ministry of Forests and Environment, Judiciary Society Nepal, and National Trust for Nature Conservation recommended making coordination with government attorneys more effective when investigating wildlife crime incidents.

It also recommended the creation of a specialised unit for wildlife crime control and investigation in Nepal to support judicial proceedings. The participants suggested prioritising cases related to environmental crimes and wildlife crimes and integrating them into the judicial process.

They also recommended differentiating the handling of wildlife-related issues from the framework of regular criminal offences when formulating laws related to wildlife crime. They also emphasised recognising the role of the National Nature Conservation Fund of Nepal as an institution established by law. Discussions were mainly centred on the rights of indigenous communities over natural resources and the need for judges to take environmental issues seriously.

Speaking at the conference, Chief Justice Bishwambhar Prasad Shrestha mentioned that some decisions regarding wildlife conservation and environmental justice made by the court were yet to be implemented. He emphasized the need for attention from relevant parties for their implementation. 

He stated, “There is a current need to achieve a balance between development and environmental sustainability for carbon emission reduction. Many laws related to forest, wildlife, and environmental conservation exist, but attention from relevant parties is necessary for their implementation,” he said. Participants also asked for the revision of provisions in forest laws that could lead to human rights violations, 

President Ramchandra Paudel, along with distinguished personalities from Nepal's judiciary sector such as Chief Justice Shrestha, Minister of Forests and Environment, Dr. Birendra Prasad Mahato, the Chairperson of the NTNC, Dr. Krishna Prasad Oli, and Member Secretary at NTNC Sharad Adhikari were present in the event. 

There were three sessions at the conference. In the first session of the programme, Ambika Prasad Khatiwada, a senior conservation officer of the NTNC, presented on the Wildlife Crime Control Project, which has been operational with the support of various organizations including the Fund, the World Bank, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The presentation aimed to foster cooperation between the judiciary and the Judiciary Society of Nepal in combating wildlife crimes. 

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