Open letter to the governments of the member-states of the CITES Convention

26 Jan 1999

The international ivory trade will recommence from three South-African countries to Japan as of March 1999 in accordance with the decision taken by the members of the CITES in Harare, Zimbabwe in June of 1997. The Standing Committee of the Convention must before guarantee that the eleven conditions for the resumption of trade are effectively fulfilled. Essentially, they are concerned with the reinforcement of inter-African cooperation and the control of elephant poaching and smuggling ivory. The situation will be examined in Geneva at the United Nations from the 8th to the 12th of February 1999. More than one hundred delegations of the member states will attend this meeting.

The African countries had twenty-one months to organize and implement these conditions. This long gestation period would permit the African countries to protect the elephants in a physical and administrative network of safeguards.

But since the summer of 1997 the regional internal and external conflicts and border disputes have multiplied. It is attested that, at least since 1978, the exchange of ivory or other animal, vegetal, mineral materials for military equipment is a current practice. Today, the countries where 4/5th of African elephants live are engaged in conflicts or are subjected to the consequences of these conflicts at their frontiers.

The CITES is placed under the tutelage of the United Nations Organization. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, declared in Paris in November of 1998 that “never has Africa been as afflicted by war and misery as it is today”. In this critical situation, it would be naive or self-deluding to pretend that the required conditions for reopening the ivory trade are fulfilled or even in line to be fulfilled ; more especially as, in accordance with fears of many experts or range states including India, ivory is again a speculative investment.

The right thing to do is to postpone the recommencement of the international ivory trade until the eleventh plenary session of the CITES which will be held in the year 2000 in Kenya. If the reopening of international ivory trade constituted a priority for Africa, reliable global studies on the impacts of war on elephant populations could then be published.

– In September 1989, the 7th plenary session of CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) passes the decision to forbid the international ivory trade.
– In 1992, in Kyoto, South-Africa, backed by Japan submits with Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe a proposal to reopen this market. It is withdrawn just before the ballot, under the pressure of all range states.
– In 1994, in Fort Lauderdale, Zimbabwe is nominated to host the next plenary session.
– In June 1997, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia pull off the licence to export ivory to Japan without the support of the others range states and with the help of European Union. On the African continent, elephants could be 400.000 according to assessments made in 1989 and 1995. Surveys are not practicable for many years in key-countries such as ex-Zaïre.


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