26-27 February 2020 (Belgrade, Serbia) – WWF Adria-Serbia and the Ministry of Environment brought together inspectors, police officials, prosecutors and judges from all parts of Serbia to enhance mutual cooperation in the field of wildlife crime. The training was held in conjunction with the CITES Convention Implementation Group and aimed to improve detection, prosecution and sanctioning of wildlife offenses; with a specific focus on sturgeon species.
More than 100 representatives of national state agencies learned more about the concept of wildlife crime, including further insights on national laws and international conventions that protect wild species from trade and other illegal activities. “The aim of the training is, first and foremost, to strengthen the capacities of the police to conduct investigations and discover illegal activities concerning wild species and their habitats. Above all, it refers to illegal trade, poaching and any other acts that occur as a consequence of organised crime and corruption. It was of great importance to finally be able to gather at one place inspectors, prosecutors and judges from all over Serbia, so they can share experiences and ideas and get familiar with the CITES Convention and wildlife crime,” concluded Pavle Jovanovic from the Ministry of Environment.
The practical part of the training presented an overview of the current practices in Serbia to prevent wildlife offenses, and shared examples of good practices to detect smuggling that have been implemented by law enforcement services in other European countries. .Detection and prevention of illegal fishing is among the major threats that many of the fish species in Serbia face, especially sturgeons. As a result of the intensive lobbying of organisations like WWF, sturgeon protection is becoming a priority for the EU .
“The training was organised as part of the LIFE for Danube Sturgeon Project that is being implemented in the Lower Danube, including Serbia. The project aims to improve enforcement of laws and regulations through national training courses and enhancement of expertise and practical skills of officials with direct responsibility for protection of endangered fish species. Although the Ministry of Environment, at the urging of WWF, has adopted a permanent ban on fishing of sturgeons, it is still necessary to cooperate with inspectors, judges and prosecutors in order to effectively prosecute offenses. Laws in Serbia are not always properly enforced,” said Vesna Maksimovic, project coordinator in Serbia.
The participants shared the view that there is a need to reorder priorities and increase the capacity of people and material resources at the law enforcement institutions in Serbia. Potential establishment of a special unit for combating environmental crime, replicating similar agencies elsewhere in Western Europe, may bring significant change to the way the problem of wildlife crime is tackled.
“This training is a shining example of how people from different fields, who face the same problems, can come together in one place. I have learned so much information thanks to WWF and the Ministry of Environment, which I will share with my colleagues when I return to my hometown prosecutor’s office, so that cases can be handled more quickly and efficiently,” said Livija Panic Miletic, Public Prosecutor from Subotica.
The joint training was delivered by Pavle Jovanovic, Leader of the CITES Convention Implementation Group (Ministry of Environment); Gordana Petkovic, Environmental Law Specialist (ECOLIBRA Environmental Consulting Agency); Livija Panic Miletic, Public Prosecutor (OJT Subotica); and Ognjen Krnetic, Head of Fish Warden Service at Kolubara and Sava; and representatives of WWF Adria-Serbia.