The bill takes the form of amendments to a 2014 law on the conservation of biodiversity. That law criminalized hunting with the use of prohibited weapons and mechanical traps and the killing of protected species.
Introducing the new bill, the Minister of Land, Environment and Rural Development, Celso Correia, said the 2014 law had raised expectations in the fight against poaching – but it had a gaping hole. The only people who can be jailed under the law are the poachers, and not those who finance them or receive the wild life products.
He noted that cases have frequently been reported of citizens caught in possession of rhinoceros horns, elephant tusk, lion teeth or claws, and other products of illegal hunting. But courts can only fine people caught selling, transporting or owning such items, and cannot imprison them
The failure of the law to impose prison sentences on traffickers in endangered species, said Correia, “creates conditions that favour the criminals, and perpetuate the slaughter of protected species. This makes it extremely difficult to defend biodiversity against the most dangerous forms of environmental crime”.
The government bill will thus impose the same punishment – prison terms of between 12 and 16 years – on poachers and on traffickers in the protected species mentioned in Appendices I and II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
Imprisonment is thus not only for those who pull the trigger, but also for anyone who “heads, directs, promotes, instigates, creates or finances, joins, supports, or collaborates directly or indirectly with any group, organization or association of two or more people” involved in the destruction of protected species of fauna and flora.
The same penalty is imposed on anyone who, without authorization, sells, distributes, buys, receives, transports, imports, exports, or owns products from protected species.
Mild punishments such as fines, Correia said, “are a real incentive to illegality and impunity while the extermination of rhinoceros, elephants, lions, turtles and all our environmental heritage is continuing”.
The bill also makes it clear that when illicit wildlife products are seized they must be handed over immediately to the Ministry of Land, Environment and Rural Development, where they will be subject to laboratory examinations and extraction of samples. Afterwards, they may be incinerated at the request of a court.
The bill was not controversial and was passed by consensus after a brief debate.