(VIETNAM / WILDAID) - Criminals convicted of breaking Vietnamese laws protecting endangered species now face up to 15 years in prison and fines up to US$660,000. The increased penalties came into effect on January 1, 2018 through amendments to Vietnam’s penal code, which were adopted by the National Assembly last year.
The code covers a wide range of crimes, including trafficking in wildlife products from rhinos, elephants, tigers, pangolins, bears and other animals. It applies to illegal killing as well as transporting, trading, storing and selling endangered species products. Fines can also be levied against corporate entities involved in smuggling. Penalties are more severe for larger quantities and if crimes are conducted by organized syndicates.
“Vietnam’s amended penal code sends a strong message that wildlife trafficking is a now considered a very serious crime that will be severely punished,” said WildAid Chief Program Officer John Baker. “Combined with protection efforts, law enforcement, prosecutions and consumer demand reduction, the code will help stop poaching and deter criminals when enforced.”
In order to spread information about these developments, WildAid and CHANGE, in collaboration with Save the Elephants and African Wildlife Foundation, are helping Vietnam enforcement agencies with new public awareness campaigns and educational seminars. The first seminar was attended by numerous high-level officials from Vietnam’s law enforcement, customs, criminal justice, judiciary and other branches. Also present were diplomats from the U.S., U.K. and Canadian embassies in Hanoi.
“Vietnam is working on completing its criminal laws on wildlife protection with much clearer and stricter policies. Violations will be punished, but I think it would be even better to prevent the crimes,” Lieutenant General Tran Van Do, former Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court, said at the seminar.
“Vietnamese people like to use wildlife products as food, medicines, decorations or jewelry, I think the government should enforce wildlife conservation and raise public awareness, to ask people to reduce and stop using products from endangered species that are facing extinction. By doing so, we can limit violations, which is a lot better than punishments,” he said.
Three celebrity ambassadors leading ongoing awareness campaigns on illegal wildlife trade participated in the seminar as well. Miss Universe Vietnam 2015 Pham Huong and Miss Universe Vietnam 2015 Runner-up Le Hang appear a new documentary film about elephants and the illegal ivory trade entitled “Vanishing Giants.” Similarly, MC Phan Anh is currently featured in a rhino conservation documentary called “Survivors.”
“I am very glad to learn that the Vietnamese government does care about wildlife, and has taken serious actions to protect wildlife. Being an ambassador of the campaign, we are committed to spread this spirit to the community,” Phan Anh said. “All Vietnamese should actively participate in this campaign to protect wild animals, to enhance the beautiful image of Vietnam in the eyes of international communities,” he said
At the event, WildAid and CHANGE announced a Wildlife Champion Award will be given to the Ho Chi Minh City port customs unit in recognition of its recent detection and seizure of seven tons of ivory and hundreds of kilograms of pangolin scales over the past 18 months. Vietnam is a transport hub for illegal wildlife products like ivory, rhino horn and pangolin scales, as well as a consumer country, particularly of rhino horn and pangolin products. WildAid and CHANGE have been running demand reduction campaigns in the country since 2013.