The following statement was released today by the Wildlife Conservation Society in celebration of the decision taken today by countries at CITES CoP17 to adopt a resolution recommending the closure of domestic elephant ivory markets globally:
Johnanneseburg, South Africa
Today, the delegates at CITES Cop17 adopted a resolution which “recommends that all Parties and non-Parties in whose jurisdiction there is a legal domestic market for ivory that is contributing to poaching or illegal trade, take all necessary legislative, regulatory and enforcement measures to close their domestic markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory as a matter of urgency…”
Currently, 183 governments are members of CITES. This resolution adopted provides a framework for all CITES governments to address their national markets for elephant ivory.
Susan Lieberman, WCS Vice President of International Policy and head of the WCS CITES delegation, served on the working groups which achieved this historic compromise which recommends the closure of domestic elephant ivory markets worldwide. Lieberman also served on working groups at the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) World Conservation Congress, which on Sept 10 in Hawaii, voted to close domestic elephant ivory markets.
Said WCS’s Lieberman:
With the adoption of this resolution, traffickers and criminal networks are losing their markets and losing their financial incentives to kill Africa’s elephants for their ivory.
“The global community today further chipped away at the elephant ivory market. The countries gathered at CITES CoP17 adopted a resolution recommending the closure of domestic elephant ivory markets around the world. Traffickers and criminal networks are losing their markets and losing their financial incentives to illegally kill Africa’s elephants for their ivory.
“When this resolution was adopted, government leaders, NGOs and others gathered in the session applauded and cheered as this brings many the hope that the world continues to make progress to end the elephant crisis—that domestic ivory markets will be closed, to prevent further laundering of illegal ivory through legal systems.
“There is renewed hope for Africa’s elephants today. We know we must end the laundering of ivory into domestic markets, and the demand for elephant ivory, if we are going to stop the poaching. This action follows steps by the United States and France and by U.S. states including Hawaii, New York, and California who have enacted laws to close down their domestic elephant ivory markets. And China and Hong Kong SAR are promising to do the same.
“While the decision today was not perfect, it was adopted by consensus; governments worked hard to find a compromise that can lead to closing down the domestic markets. The reality is that all elephant ivory markets contribute to illegal trade and poaching. The next time there is a big seizure in an importing country with an open market, it will put more pressure on them to close their market. Increased attention will now be focused on countries that are a major problem for ivory trafficking, particularly importing countries — and there will be pressure on them to close their markets ASAP.
“Many countries were champions of closure of domestic ivory markets, especially the African elephant range countries who submitted the original document Angola, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Senegal—and the United States.
“It is important to note that the CITES and IUCN ivory decisions this month have highlighted the leadership of African nations behind the movement to save elephants, including African-led efforts such as the Cotonou Declaration of 2015, and the Elephant Protection Initiative. Africa’s leadership has been inspiring to all. Their elephants and their communities are suffering—and the world must heed the call to put an end to the ivory trade, once and for all.
“At WCS and with our 96 Elephants campaign, we have fought this fight to protect elephants on several levels – local, national, and international. We have worked with hundreds of partners on the US ban on domestic elephant ivory sales and on working state-by-state to enact similar bans. As we headed to CITES, more than 130,000 people signed the 96 Elephants petition calling for the CITES parties to adopt this historic resolution today.
“WCS will not halt in this effort as we work to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand.”
Q&A with WCS VP for International Policy Susan Lieberman on CITES vote
Q: Exactly what does this mean for the sale of domestic ivory globally?
A: The most important point is that it is a formal endorsement by the CITES Parties–the member governments–of the closure of domestic ivory markets. It won’t magically close the markets, but it’s a recognition that they need to close.
This is a compromise. That means that many countries wanted there to be no caveat “…that is contributing to poaching or illegal trade”, while others wouldn’t sign on without that. The reality is that ALL markets contribute to illegal trade and poaching. This way, it focuses more on the importing countries–the next time there is a big seizure in an importing country with an open market, it will put more pressure on them to close their market.
Q: What will be the most immediate impact of the passage of this resolution?
No one can ever say again that CITES cannot take a position on the issue.
A: Increased attention will be focused on countries that are a major problem for ivory trafficking, particularly importing countries–and there will be pressure on them to close their markets ASAP.
No one can ever say again that CITES cannot take a position on the issue.
Q: Does it carry the force of law internationally or within the individual States that are parties to CITES?
A: Resolutions are not legally binding. But they represent the will of the Parties–and that is one reason it is important that it will be adopted by consensus and not by a vote. But it is binding on the Secretariat. Some countries up until now have refused to even recognize or discuss the closure of domestic markets, or to accept that recommendations are within the purview of CITES; that will now be put to bed.
Q: Is this just symbolic?
A: No–rather, it is a strong message that CITES is on the path to putting an end to ivory sales. Not all governments see it that way, but when we look back to CoP17 and 2016, I believe it will be seen that way.
Q: How does or does not the resolution move China/Hong Kong and others closer to closing their domestic ivory markets?
A: China, including Hong Kong SAR, have already said they will close their markets. And China was strong on the issue in the Working Group. This will help ensure they close their market soon.
Q: Is there a timetable around this resolution in anyway?
A: No, but it does say governments need to do this as a matter of urgency.
Q: Are there verification measures to ensure Parties are complying?
A: Yes. For the first time Parties are required to report to the Secretariat on the status of the legality of their domestic ivory markets (including implementation of this Resolution, “including efforts to close those markets that contribute to illegal killing or illegal trade”). That will now get reported to CITES Standing Committee meetings, and the next CoP. It elevates the issue, and will increase pressure on countries that have not closed their markets–focusing attention on those countries that are a particular problem. This is a big step.
Q: Does the resolution prevent the re-opening of domestic trade in the future?
A: Unfortunately, no. The CoP has the right to change any resolution at any CoP, but that would take a 2/3 majority, which is not going to happen. And the CoP can adopt any problem, but again, that takes a 2/3 majority.