Law on wildlife crimes takes effect, but enforcement still weak

Last update 07:30 | 21/03/2018
VietNamNet Bridge – On January 1, 2018, the 2017 amended Criminal Code with stricter provisions and heavier sanctions on wildlife crime took effect. 

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Criminals can be sentenced up to 15 years in prison

Criminals can be sentenced up to 15 years in prison and a pecuniary penalty of up to VND15 billion.

The first Criminal Code in 1985 only mentioned crimes related to forest management and protection and the illegally poaching of birds and animals. The maximum penalty stipulated in the law was three years imprisonment.

In the 1999 Criminal Code, the term ‘wildlife’ for the first time was legalized. The pecuniary penalty was raised to a maximum of VND50 million, while the crimes were subject to seven years in prison.

However, the law only covered four illegal acts: hunting, killing, transporting and trafficking of wild animals, and only mentioned rare and precious wild animals prohibited by the state. This meant that punishment was not applied to wild animals not found on the list.

In 2009, the amended Criminal Code imposed a fine 10 times higher than the previous code, and added the crime of ‘wildlife captivity’.

However, experts said the regulations were still not strong enough in the context of Vietnam’s accession to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) since 2004.

The law only covered endangered, precious and rare species prioritized for protection in the country, not including species outside Vietnam that were trafficked across countries. The act of receiving wild animals was not mentioned.

The 2015 Criminal Code, with amendments made in 2017, is considered the most progressive law dealing with wildlife crimes. The law alleviates sanctions and removes the death sentence on some kinds of crimes, but imposes heavier penalties on wildlife criminals. 

Luong Ngoc Tram, judge of the Supreme People’s Court, said the number of wildlife crime cases has been increasing in the last three years.

In 2015, the Supreme Court heard 36 cases. The figures were 84 and 87 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Tram noted that the number of elephant tusks and rhino horns trafficked across border lines is on the rise. In the past, these were counted in kilograms, but now, in tons and containers.

The 2015 Criminal Code, with amendments made in 2017, is considered the most progressive law dealing with wildlife crimes.

The law alleviates sanctions and removes the death sentence on some kinds of crimes, but imposes heavier penalties on wildlife criminals.

However, former Minister of Justice Pham Quy Ty commented that in most cases, violators are only forced to pay administrative fines, and are not judged as criminals.

Investigative agencies and judicial authorities usually apply administrative punishment instead of prosecution of wildlife crimes, according to speakers at a workshop on the promotion of law enforcement organized by Change in early 2018 in Hanoi.

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