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Call for Trade Sanctions to Halt Vietnam’s Vast Illegal Rhino Horn Trade

BANGKOK - Environmentalists are today calling for trade sanctions against Vietnam for its failure to take action against its massive illegal trade in rhino horn. The 177 nations currently Party to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Bangkok are discussing measures to counter the intensive poaching of rhinos around the world, but particularly in South Africa where nearly 1,500 rhinos have been poached in the past three years.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a non-profit environmental group based in Washington, DC and London, UK today called for trade sanctions after releasing a new report, "Vietnam's Illegal Rhino Horn Trade," which describes how Vietnam has failed over the past decade to meet its CITES obligations designed to protect rhinos.

EIA is calling for CITES and the United States to impose trade sanctions on Vietnam for undermining CITES. Sanctions should continue on Vietnam until it fully implements its CITES obligations, enacts and completely enforces a total ban on all domestic rhino horn trade, and sustains a comprehensive crack down on the criminal syndicates behind the rhino horn trade.

"Vietnam and Vietnamese diplomats have been shown to be at the center of a massive illegal rhino horn trade that is fueling the biggest rhino poaching crisis in over 30 years," said Allan Thornton , President of EIA. "Time is running out for the world's rhinos, which are being massacred every day, largely as a result of Vietnam's failure to crack down on the illegal trade within its borders. Vietnam must enact and enforce a total domestic ban on all rhino horn trade and enact strict measures to combat Vietnam's criminal syndicates driving the poaching in South Africa."

The active involvement of Vietnamese diplomats strongly indicates that criminal syndicates are operating with high level protection from powerful government players, preventing action to halt Vietnam's massive rhino horn trade. Evidence includes[1]:

  • Nguyen Khanh Toan , the deputy head of the Vietnamese government office, who used his diplomatic immunity to smuggle rhino horns out of Africa and was later caught with 10 envelopes of cash at Hanoi airport to buy rhino horns for "friends and colleagues."

  • Three senior Vietnamese diplomatic staff at the Vietnam Embassy in South Africa have been directly implicated in illegal rhino horn trade – the First Secretary, the Economic Attache, and the Political Counselor.

  • Vietnamese diplomatic cars have been used for transporting illegal rhino horn, and illegal rhino horn is thought to be smuggled in Vietnamese diplomatic baggage, which is protected from searches.

  • Rhino horn dealers in Ho Chi Minh City also refer to Vietnamese diplomatic staff based in Mozambique and Ghana as other sources of rhino horn, according to a Time Magazine reporter.[2]

The Environmental Investigation Agency, with the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) filed a US Pelly Petition on Vietnam's illegal rhino horn trade. The Pelly Amendment to the US Fishermen's Protective Act provides for a petition to be submitted to the US Secretary of the Interior for any country identified as undermining an international conservation agreement. If certified, President Obama could impose trade sanctions on Vietnam until it comes into full compliance with CITES rhino regulations. On December 21, 2012, the Pelly Petition on Vietnam's illegal rhino horn trade was submitted, noting in detail how Vietnam is undermining CITES. Vietnam has: emerged as a new market for rhino horn, with Vietnamese nationals fueling demand for rhino horn and engaging in rhino poaching and illegal trade;

  • failed to enforce its CITES implementing legislation and prosecute individuals involved in the illegal horn trade;

  • failed to implement other CITES obligations, including by failing to verify permits, maintain trade records, identify, mark, register and secure its rhino horn stocks; adopt and implement comprehensive legislation and enforcement controls, including internal trade restrictions and penalties; and

  • failed to develop and implement strategies and programs to reduce demand and consumption of rhino horn and other rhino horn parts and derivatives. Last week Vietnamese officials again denied that Vietnam is driving the illegal rhino horn trade despite numerous credible reports received by the CITES Parties in Bangkok.

Demand for rhino horn has skyrocketed as fraudulent claims that rhino horn cures cancer are made repeatedly, sometimes by Vietnamese government health authorities. Rhino horn has also become a luxury status symbol among some rich Vietnamese nationals, who also believe it to be a hangover cure.

For more information, contact:
Allan Thornton , President, EIA-US: allanthornton@eia-global.org
Lisa Handy , Senior Policy Advisor, EIA-US: lisahandy@eia-global.org 202-483-6621
[1] Rademeyer, Julian. Killing for Profit, pages 251-258
[2] Milliken & Shaw, The South Africa-Viet Nam Rhino Horn Nexus
SOURCE Environmental Investigation Agency

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