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The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) currently has two prosecutors covering the whole country, where poaching and trafficking of elephant ivory and rhino horn has increased with rising Asian demand.
That number could jump to as many as 14, after conservation organisation Space for Giants worked with Kenya’s national prosecution service to identify potential new recruits, and train them up. Space for Giants’ patron is Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of The Independent.
KWS’s acting director general, Julius Kimani, and Max Graham, CEO of Space for Giants, have signed an agreement in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, to widen cooperation including further training and mentoring of these new prosecutors.
“KWS cannot on its own win this war, rather, our collective effort is the surest way to deal with perpetrators of wildlife crime,” Mr Kimani said. “In the fight against wildlife crime, you start with intelligence gathering, and then investigations. It’s a process.
“We’ve done very well where intelligence and investigations, but we realise that there was a gap in the courts, and we’re very grateful that Space for Giants have come in to offer as much training as possible to strengthen the unit of prosecution, such that now the law enforcement will be a complete circle.”
The collaboration includes induction and ongoing training and mentoring for the recruits, support for policies that ensure the KWS prosecutors operate under the same high standards as Kenya’s regular prosecutors, training for KWS’s criminal investigators and scenes-of-crime specialists, and support to develop a frontline human rights protection policy.
Shamini Jayanathan, Space for Giants’ Director of Wildlife Law and Justice, will support KWS to ensure world-class legal expertise is brought to bear upon Kenya’s fight against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
“Not only can KWS catch wildlife criminals but now they have the capacity to ensure those criminals are convicted under Kenya’s robust laws,” said Max Graham of Space for Giants.
“A ranger in the field should not have to experience the frustration of confronting a wildlife criminal they arrested a week earlier walking free again because of an acquittal. This is a critical step up in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade and I am honoured that Space for Giants is able, in some small way, to support Kenya in this battle under the Giants Club initiative.”
Kenya’s wildlife laws are now among the strictest in the world, with heavy minimum fines meted out to traffickers of elephant tusks, rhino horns, and other illegal wildlife parts. Prison terms for convicted wildlife criminals are also now among the world’s longest.
Until now, cases against suspected wildlife criminals have been carried out by prosecutors from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP). Its officials have been instrumental in fighting wildlife crime in the courts, but have also had to carry the weight of prosecuting all other crimes in Kenya, too.
By transferring significant caseload to the wildlife service’s new prosecutors, it is hoped the ODPP will have more time and resources to dedicate to other crimes affecting Kenyans. In turn, KWS can help to make sure that cases it cannot cover itself, which still need the ODPP, are nonetheless ‘trial ready’ from the start of their first hearings.
The new prosecutors are expected soon to be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions, under whose authority they will bring cases and whose office remains the ultimate prosecution institution in Kenya. Space for Giants will ensure that the new KWS prosecutors operate under the ODPP’s national standards, and will work with the national prosecuting authority consistently to support and mentor them.
Space for Giants’ work to enhance Kenya’s legal capacity against wildlife crime includes a series of guidance documents for the judiciary, including a Code of Conduct for prosecutors, suggestions on drafting wildlife crime laws, and model sentences for such offences.
The organisation’s in-house legal expertise includes Ms Jayanathan, a British criminal barrister specialising in building legislative, prosecutorial and judicial capacity in relation to wildlife crime. Her work has included initiating and leading the development of a Rapid Reference Guide for wildlife crime investigators and prosecutors that was initially trialled in Kenya and has since been replicated in countries across Africa under programmes carried out under the Giants Club, a Space for Giants initiative.
For more information about Space for Giants visit www.spaceforgiants.org.