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Letter of Understanding Establishing the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, 23rd November 2010, OXIO 307

393e3085-1e38-48ec-ba2d-e9258f5e4f97; International Criminal Police Organization [INTERPOL]; United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC]; World Bank; World Customs Organization [WCO]; a6e5cb77-e9de-4d4c-bfa1-36ce98e1f7a5

Constituent instruments of international organizations

Core Issues

1. The governance structure of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), based on equal participation, operational autonomy, and the individual priorities and mandates of the collaborating international organizations.

2. The nature of the agreement between the ICCWC intergovernmental organizations.

3. The legal basis for the establishment of the ICCWC.

4. The ICCWC as an example of successful cooperation between intergovernmental organizations.

This headnote pertains to: Letter of Understanding Establishing the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, a treaty which is the constituent instrument of an international organization. Jump to full text


International organizations are actors that have the capacity to act under international law and reach international agreements with other international organizations. The constituent documents of the majority of international organizations contain provisions that allow the establishment of relationships with other international organizations. A substantial number of international organizations formalise their cooperation through a legal instrument such as a memorandum of understanding (‘MOU’) which mostly discusses the exchange of information and joint meetings. The Letter of Understanding Establishing the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (‘Letter of Understanding’ or ‘Letter’) is unique in this respect because it represents the first formal collaboration of five intergovernmental organizations at the global level which led to the establishment of an international consortium. This collaboration was formed for the common goal of executing, jointly and severally, the fight against wildlife crimes. The collaboration in the form of a consortium was designed as a response to the complexity, scale, and nature of wildlife crimes which take place across national boundaries and continents. As the Secretary-General of the Secretariat for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), John E Scanlon stressed at the First Global Meeting of the Wildlife Enforcement Networks in Bangkok on 5 March 2013 that the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) is ‘the first initiative where the five organizations have joined forces to achieve a common goal’. Before this, the consortiums were mainly used by educational institutions, groups of professionals, industry representatives, or jointly by government, academia, and industry representatives.

The process of establishing the ICCWC began under the chairmanship of the CITES Secretariat in November 2009 when specialists from the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO-INTERPOL), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank, and the World Customs Organization (WCO) came together at the UNODC headquarters in Vienna, Austria. This formal collaboration became possible between these organizations as a result of long-term bilateral and multilateral relationships—for example, before the creation of the ICCWC, the CITES Secretariat, ICPO-INTERPOL, and UNODC coordinated their capacity building activities and ensured the regular exchange of information and data. One of the examples of this cooperation is the CITES-INTERPOL law enforcement intelligence training that was held in Jakarta in 2009. The ICCWC was formally established on 23 November 2010 when the executive heads of the partner organizations (‘partner organizations’) signed the Letter of Understanding. The Letter is based on the cross-cutting thematic priorities, technical expertise, regional networks, and on-the-ground experience of the partner organizations in the area of the fight against wildlife crime. Each of these organizations has a mandate in law enforcement and criminal justice capacity-building, and together they provide a multi-agency approach to combating wildlife crime.


The Letter of Understanding established the ICCWC on the basis of an equal partnership between five intergovernmental organizations. [ref 1]

It expressed the will of the Member States and parties of the partner organizations to unite in the ICCWC with the goal of achieving synergy through combined experience, capacity, and networks of the partner organizations. [refs 6, 16]

According to the Letter of Understanding, the principle tasks of the ICCWC were to include raising awareness regarding the importance of the fight against wildlife crime, working collaboratively to support national law enforcement agencies and regional wildlife law enforcement agreements, assisting countries in reviewing their current response to wildlife crime, disseminating capacity building materials and tools, undertaking research, and proposing innovative ways to prevent wildlife crime. [ref 8-14]

It is important to note, that the partner organizations agreed to work on the achievement of these tasks within the context of their respective responsibilities, capabilities, and priorities. [ref 7] This provision demonstrates the intention of the organizations to preserve their operational autonomy and decision-making procedures. The partner organizations admitted that cooperation under the ICCWC is possible only when the ICCWC’s priorities correspond with their own priorities, work programmes, and mandates. Thus, the partner organizations agreed to enhance the efficiency of their activities by working jointly under the ICCWC, while at the same time continuing to operate separately, according to their own mandates, strategic plans, and work programmes. [ref 16]

The ICCWC operates according to a joint work program, as determined in the Letter of Understanding, which includes joint activities in the fields of capacity building, operational support, and coordination of transnational interdiction efforts. Currently, the work of the ICCWC is guided by the Strategic Programme 2016–2020 which was launched at 66th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee (Strategic matters: Cooperation with other organizations, International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime). Implementation of the Strategic Programme’s activities is subject to the availability of funding. The Letter does not determine the amount of contributions from each partner organization. [ref 15] While all five partner organizations make substantial in-kind commitments, the ICCWC significantly requires the support of the donor community in order to develop and deliver activities aligned to the ICCWC’s focus areas and supporting strategies. Among the biggest current donors to the ICCWC are the European Commission, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the World Bank Development Grant Facility.


The Letter of Understanding is an agreement establishing the ICCWC. Being an agreement that expresses the good faith intentions of the parties, the Letter is not intended to be legally binding.

Unlike the majority of MOUs, which determine that the parties to the MOU act solely and separately when performing certain joint activities agreed on in the MOU and that nothing in the MOU shall be construed as creating an agency relationship or legal partnership between the parties, in the Letter of Understanding the parties agree that when collaborating together, they will work in the form of a consortium under a common name. Therefore, the ICCWC is formed of five partner organizations as an equal partnership initiative to pursue their common purpose of jointly executing the fight against wildlife crime by pooling their resources, and technical and programming expertise. The ICCWC is not an international organization with a separate legal personality and could not be separated from its partner organizations. Each partner organization within the ICCWC operates as part of the group only in respect to the joint activities that are set out in the ICCWC Strategic Mission 2014–2016 and Strategic Programme for 2016–2020. In turn, these documents are drafted on the basis of the respective strategic plans and work programmes of the partner organizations, so as to avoid any possible contradiction between the respective responsibilities, capabilities, and priorities of each partner organization and the ICCWC. Therefore, every organization under the ICCWC remains independent in its operations and does not in any way control another partner organization's operations.

The management of the ICCWC is conducted jointly and equally by partner organizations. Each partner organization has equal rights and responsibilities in connection with the management of the ICCWC. The executive heads of the partner organizations determine the overall operation of the ICCWC, its current challenges, next steps, and future activities. Their meetings usually take place once per year.

The operational decision-making, identification of priorities for the implementation of activities under the Strategic Programme, adoption of decisions on which new initiatives to support, and monitoring of overall effectiveness of delivery—as determined in Strategic matters: International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (2013) and the ICCWC Annual Report 2013—are done by the Senior Experts Group (‘SEG’). Usually, the SEG nominates the partner organization responsible for coordination, implementation, and monitoring of a certain activity. For example, UNODC, according to the ICCWC Strategic Programme, is leading a comprehensive programme to combat corruption on behalf of the ICCWC. The SEG is chaired by the CITES Secretariat and is required to meet at least once per year; however, normally the meetings happen quarterly in addition to monthly teleconferences.

All the secretariat and administrative support which is required for the operation of the ICCWC—according to CITES Resolution Conf. 11.3 on Compliance and Enforcement and Strategic matters: International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (2013)—is provided by the CITES Secretariat which also serves as the Chair of ICCWC. There is a special ICCWC Support Officer at the CITES Secretariat—as indicated in Strategic matters: Cooperation with organizations and multilateral environmental agreements, International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime—who is responsible for the coordination and implementation of the activities carried out by the ICCWC, including drafting correspondence, reports, and developing communication and other informative materials.

The success of this governance model is explained by its efficient design which is based on the equal participation of partner organizations, each maintaining their operational autonomy, individual priorities, and mandates, while operating as a whole in the form of a consortium for certain activities in order to achieve synergy through a combination of technical expertise and increasing political influence and reputational gains in the global agenda by speaking with one voice.

Overall, the simple organizational structure of ICCWC, which does not require delegation of authority from partner organizations, demonstrates its efficiency by helping to avoid the duplication of effort, inconsistencies, and overlap and gaps between the activities and initiatives of the partner organizations, as well as avoiding the waste of financial resources by saving on the costs of conducting joint projects and incentives in the field of the fight against wildlife crime. It is also possible to presume that the establishment of the ICCWC allows partner organizations to receive more financial support from donors since the combination of diverse technical expertise, regional networks, and on-the-ground experience of the partner organizations ultimately leads to a greater scale of positive effect from their joint activities. On 29 November 2017, the ICCWC announced significant new financial support from donors amounting to US$20 million for the implementation of the ICCWC Strategic Programme 2016–2020.


In the same manner as states acknowledge the powerful influence of collective action and collective identity achieved from the formation of international organizations, the establishment of the ICCWC demonstrates the recognition by the global community of the benefits of deeper cooperation among international organizations for more coordinated and multifaceted responses to international challenges, including international crimes which regularly involve corruption and highly organized and sophisticated criminal syndicates.

At the time of writing, the ICCWC has gained far-reaching recognition by the United Nations bodies and other international fora. For example, the role of the ICCWC in the enhancement of awareness of wildlife crime, provision of institutional analysis and support, building of the capacity of national institutions and sub-regional and regional enforcement organizations, support of analytic reviews—especially through the ICCWC Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit—and coordination of multi-national operations targeting illegal trade and smuggling has been broadly recognized by United Nations Economic and Social Council Resolution 2011/36 and Resolution 2013/40, UNODC Resolution 23/1, United Nations Environment Programme Resolution 1/3, the London Declaration on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, the African Development Bank’s Marrakech Declaration: A 10-Point Action Plan to Combat Illicit Wildlife Trafficking, and other international fora. The important work of the ICCWC was also emphasised in the recent UN General Assembly Resolution A/71/L.88 on tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife. Moreover, while cooperation among international organizations rarely leads to the development of joint products, the ICCWC has managed to develop a significant number of products, such as the Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit, the Indicator Framework for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime, the Guidelines on Methods and Procedure for Ivory Sampling and Laboratory Analysis, the Best Practice Guide for Forensic Timber Identification, and the Training Course on Mobilizing Anti-Money Laundering Regimes.

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Reporter(s): Vira Khoroshavina

Source text

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We the Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Secretary General of ICPO-INTERPOL, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the President of the World Bank, and the Secretary General of the Customs Cooperation Council (known as the World Customs Organization (WCO)),

RECOGNIZING that illegal harvesting and trade of protected fauna and flora may lead to their overexploitation and possible extinction, affect the livelihoods of rural communities, impact upon food security, and risk damaging ecosystems; that cross-border smuggling of live animals and plants carries with it possible risks to human health through the spread of disease, some of which are life-threatening; that the introduction of potentially invasive alien species into habitats could reduce the natural biodiversity of countries or regions; and that the ease with which some wildlife contraband, often in significant quantities, is smuggled across borders may demonstrate very real threats to the national security and the bio-security of States;

NOTING the involvement of organized crime, and sophisticated techniques and structures, in the illegal harvesting, smuggling and subsequent unlawful sale of wildlife and wildlife products, and that the association of general crimes such as conspiracy, fraud, counterfeiting, money-laundering, racketeering, violence and corruption are regularly encountered by wildlife law enforcement officers;

AWARE that environment and natural resource laws can and must be enforced in ways that support poverty reduction, enhance popular support for conservation, while affording due process;

CONVINCED that further international cooperation is essential if such crimes and related administrative or civil violations are to be responded to effectively;

NOTING that the member States and Parties of CITES, ICPO-INTERPOL, UNODC, World Bank and WCO have expressed a desire that the agencies liaise together more closely;

HEREBY agree, within the context of their respective responsibilities, capabilities, and priorities to:

  • •  highlight within their institutions the importance of the fight against wildlife crimes and other related violations and promote ICCWC among governments of States, through inter alia, relevant international fora;

  • •  work collaboratively to support national law enforcement agencies, and regional wildlife law enforcement agreements, bodies and networks in responding to transnational wildlife crimes through, inter alia, the provision of our available expertise and resources, and to raise awareness of wildlife crimes and other related violations in the wider law enforcement community;

  • •  assist countries in reviewing their current responses to wildlife crimes and related violations, facilitate national multi-agency interaction and cooperation, and encourage effective responses throughout the justice system;

  • •  develop a joint work program that will include joint activities in the fields of capacity building, operational support and coordination of transnational interdiction efforts;

  • •  disseminate existing, and jointly develop new, capacity building materials and tools to enhance the knowledge and skills of national agencies in combating wildlife crime and related violations;

  • •  undertake research into the causes, nature, scale and value of wildlife crime and related violations and propose innovative ways to prevent and discourage such crime and related violations, for example, through the provision of socio-economic incentives which encourage local communities to use natural resources in a lawful and sustainable manner and to participate in related monitoring and control efforts;

  • •  assist in promoting best practice in the fields of natural resource conservation and management; and

  • •  where appropriate, seek donor support to enable the provision of such services in the form of joint projects and programmes.

We further agree that our agencies, when collaborating together, will work under the title, the ‘International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime’.