Cameroon’s Special Criminal Court has opened legal proceedings on a wildlife case, in an unprecedented move that is expected to raise the profile of wildlife crime prosecution in the country.
The move comes amidst recent worldwide calls for countries to step up the fight against wildlife crime in an attempt to reduce the threat of extinction that many primates including gorillas and Ourangutans face. Cameroon has been leading the fight against animal poaching in the central African sub region.
The Special Criminal Court was created to prosecute Cameroon’s corrupt officials under President Biya’s anti-corruption campaign nick named Operation Sparrow Hawk.
The case was forwarded to the Special Criminal Court in Yaounde following the arrests of 4 suspected ivory dealers in Douala on June 21, 2013 by wildlife officials. The suspects were found in possession of large quantities of raw and carved ivory. Following investigations carried out in the country’s capital city Yaounde by the police, an accomplice of the 4 suspected traffickers was later arrested.
The decision to start legal proceedings concerning a wildlife matter in the Special Criminal Court is unprecedented in a country that has been severely hit in recent times by elephant poachers, Barrister Tcheugueu Louis Bernard Tcheugueu, lawyer for the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, the government Ministry that brought the matter to court says “I feel satisfied that for the first time we see that state affairs are taken with seriousness”.
The operation that led to the arrest of the suspects was carried out with the collaboration of the Forces of Law and Order and with the technical assistance of The Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA) an NGO specialized in wildlife law enforcement.
Among the seized ivory were chopsticks which were destined for the international black market that has been at the center of accusations of driving the African elephant to extinction. The black market trade in ivory is mainly run by organised criminal groups. Barrister Tcheugueu says “Those who are behind such activities protect their own wildlife but prefer to come to Africa to destroy our wildlife by paying out a few coins”. He equally called on the Special Criminal Court to fully apply the law, “We are requesting that the law should be strictly applied in this case so that potential traffickers should be discouraged and our wildlife left intact”.
The decision to carry out legal proceedings concerning wildlife crimes at the Special Criminal Court reflects the magnitude of the crime in the country. Cameroon passed a law in 1994 that has been widely used to prosecute wildlife dealers in the country at lower courts but this time around one of the highest courts in the land is interested in a wildlife case