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Kristine Aghalaryan

Wildlife Legislation Lacking: Armenia Falters Regarding its CITES Obligations

When it comes to legislation preventing the illegal trade in wildlife, Armenia is dragging its feet.

This sobering evaluation, that legislation on the books in Armenia does meet the requirements for the effective implementation of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), was part of a report released this week by the CITES National Legislation Project (NLP).

According to the latest NLP figures 88 countries and 13 dependent territories need to strengthen their legal frameworks for the effective implementation of CITES, including to combat illegal trade in wildlife.

The NLP looked at the 180 signatories to the CITES and ranked their wildlife legislation according to three categories:

Category 1: legislation that is believed generally to meet the requirements for implementation of CITES; Category 2: legislation that is believed generally not to meet all requirements for the implementation of CITES; and Category 3: legislation that is believed generally not to meet the requirements for the implementation of CITES. 

Armenia, along with 38 other CITES signatories, was categorized as a Category 3 Party. These 39 comprise 21.7% of the total.

49 signatories (27.2%) were ranked as slightly better in Category 2. 87 signatories (48.3%) were categorized in Category 1.

In the CITES Secretariat’s report to the 65th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee in July 2014, it was reported that of the 180 Parties 87 are in Category 1 (48.3%), 88 are in categories 2 and 3 (48.9%) and 5 Parties (2.8%) are pending categorization. The report showed that 50 States with legislation in categories 2 or 3 had been party to the Convention for twenty years or more as of March 2013 (see tables 2, 3 and 4 in Annex I).

So what does this below par ranking mean for Armenia which joined the CITES in January 2009?

Armenia and other Parties whose legislation is in Categories 2 or 3, and which have been party to the Convention for more than five years as of March 2013, will have to prove that it is taking steps to effectively implement its CITES obligations.  The deadline for submitting such evidence to the CITES Secretariat is January 2016 (the 66th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee).

The kicker is that such a submission of evidence must be in one of the working languages of the CITES. While Armenia has enacted CITES legislation, no English translation has yet been provided to the CITES Secretariat. 

In its “Status of Legislative Progress for Implementing CITES”, we read the following regarding Armenia:

Translation of legislation into one of CITES working languages (assistance possibly needed) and agreement between AR and Secretariat on revised legislative analysis.

Azerbaijan and Georgia, in comparison, have garnered Category 2 ranking in terms of CITES legislation and may be bumped up to Category 1. Both joined the CITES in the 1990s. Russian and Turkey are placed in Category 1.

“Ensuring the 35,000 species of plants and animals listed under CITES are not illegally traded or exploited unsustainably requires effective national legal frameworks in each of the 181 Parties to the Convention,” said John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General once the NLP findings were released. On the same day, May 5, a joint initiative between CITES and UNEP was announced offering targeted technical support to countries to meet CITES legislative requirements.

In Armenia, managing the implementation of CITES obligations is the purview of the Ministry of Nature Protection – specifically Dr. Artashes Ziroyan, Head of the Bioresources Management Agency.

Dr. Ziroyan told Hetq that the CITES Secretariat must provide financing in order that the CITES Management Authority in Armenia can draft and present legislation.

“Legislation corresponding to the provisions of the CITES must be drafted and approved by the national assembly. But we face some problems. First, it’s a European body and we have entered the Eurasian Union, and even that is unclear,” Ziroyan said.

Ziroyan added that other countries have adopted special projects to draft legislation but that it’s a long and costly process. He cited a figure of US$200-300,000.

“We’ve told the CITES that financing is needed to resolve this matter. They are aware of our need,” Ziroyan told Hetq.

Until such funding materializes, Ziroyan claims that Armenia has been engaged in the legislation process and that there aren’t any shortcomings.

Despite Ziroyan’s claims to the contrary, Hetq has uncovered evidence that wildlife, often classified as endangered, is entering Armenia without adequate monitoring on the part of local customs officials. 

In fact, a Hetq investigative series on the illegal trafficking of animals has uncovered a well established network of importers and exporters. A criminal case against one the players, Artur Khachatryan, was launched in January 2014. That case has dragged out ever since.

An interesting side note to the story is that First Deputy Minister-Chief of Government Staff Gurgen Dumanyan owns a 10% stake in Zoo Fauna Art, the wildlife importing company where Khachatryan is director and a 70% owner.

Armenia has just nine months, until January 2016, to get its act together.

Officials here claim the problem is a lack of money; perhaps it’s a lack of will as well.

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