On environment crime

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 14, 2020 09:58

By Robert Wilton  

In the mountains of Albania, in the north, a block of wood is 30 euro. In the market, for the public, it is 60 euros. When there is profit there is crime, unless there is the rule of law. As we hear from around the country, discussing with local communities, with mayors, with people in all different regions of Albania, illegal logging still continues here, remains one of the most significant crimes damaging Albania’s environment, despite the legal framework, despite the restrictions imposed by the government.

Through the illegal, unmanaged cutting of trees Albanians are robbed of quality air and quality soil, communities are robbed of their wealth, while shady businesses increase their profits at the expense of Albanian citizens and Albanian society.

Illegal logging is only a small part of an ugly larger picture: river pollution through the illegal spilling of industrial waste, illegal landfills destroying the landscape, and crime after crime in other sectors are equally harmful for the environment. These are in some cases sophisticated crimes committed by sophisticated criminals but these are not mysteries.

(Anyone who looks into an Albanian river understands environmental crime, anyone who hesitates to drink Albanian water understands environmental crime, anyone who worries about the destruction of the Vjosa River, jewel of Albania and a treasure of European wildlife and nature, or who worries about the uncontrolled and unnecessary hydropower developments around the country understands environmental crime, anyone, who protested about the import of waste to Albania or the continued degradation of the Valbona Valley regardless of legal decisions, understands environmental crime. All of these Albanian voices understand environmental crime, and they must be heard.)

But we are not talking today about a uniquely Albanian phenomenon. Researchers have claimed that transnational environmental crime robs an estimated, something between, 91 to 259 billion USD from the world’s economy each year, and represents 64% of organized criminal finance.[1] This is the scale of the crime, this is the scale of the loss, of the theft from our societies our citizens.

In Albania, it is difficult to estimate the real scope or impact of environmental crime because of a lack of comprehensive data and effective reporting mechanisms. In 2018 – the most recent statistics we have – 247 cases of environmental crime were referred to prosecutors. A few of them, well, one third of these (31%) were tried in court [2] which represents the lack of sufficient evidence to take a case to court, let alone secure a guilty verdict. So, there is quite a bit that we do not know. What we do know, however, is that cooperation between the inspectorate, the police, the prosecution, and the courts must be strengthened in order to report, prosecute, and sentence those responsible for crimes against Albania’s environment.

Some years ago, the OSCE Presence in Albania supported the (then) Ministry of Environment to establish an inter-institutional group to share information and to work together to fight environmental crime. This inter-institutional group conducted local events in various municipalities to raise public awareness of the issue; finalized a strategic action plan against environmental crime for 2018-2021; provided expert input for legislative changes on environmental crime, including the amendment of the criminal code; and prepared a road map for a training curriculum on the issue for the Police Academy. The inter-institutional group on environmental crime with our continued support is an active and essential body, and the OSCE continues to help it as it continues to move towards the next stage of its implementation and its effectiveness.

Though Albania has made progress through its legislation and those key steps that I mentioned, so have the crimes. As States become more efficient in upholding the law, criminals become more efficient in breaking it. Albania needs additional human resources, multi-agency co-operation, enhanced cooperation at the regional level, and legislative changes, including in the penal code, to fight this issue. We will continue as the OSCE to support you at every step.

The ambition of today’s conference, which has been our privilege to support under the leadership or our Albanian partners, is to make environmental crimes more visible, more understood, and then to provoke reactions from state institutions and from the society. Above all it is to promote partnership.

Through the year 2020, Albania has the Chairmanship of the OSCE. This means that Albania is leading the diplomacy and articulating the values for all of our 57 participating states. Albania has set out a hugely positive and impressive set of priorities for this year. Albania has set out a firm commitment to standards across all aspects of human society and human rights. Albania has set out a commitment to lead this region and the whole OSCE region in improving co-operation. The OSCE Presence, of course, is fully committed to support Albania in this crucial year for the country’s reputation and for regional cooperation.


*Remarks at the Scientific Conference on Environment Crime in Tirana on Feb. 11, 2020.  


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 14, 2020 09:58