Global Human Rights Defence

Environmental crimes impacting human rights: Security of Romanian forest rangers threatened by “wood mafia”

Environmental crimes impacting human rights: Security of Romanian forest rangers threatened by “wood mafia”
The effects of deforestation. © Andrei Singer/Flickr, 2010.

Author:Laura Libertini

Department: Europe Team


The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) declared that “the European Union is widely considered to be the third-largest destination for illegal wildlife”. Indeed, the European Union (EU) is a key transit hub for the illegal wildlife trade. According to the IFAW, nearly 12,000 endangered species were sold in digital marketplaces throughout Europe from 2016 to 2018 (IFAW, 2019). To counter this trend, the European Commission came forward with the European Wildlife Action Plan 2016-2020 to tackle wildlife trafficking within the EU’s borders and reinforce its role in fighting these illegal activities regionally and globally. The new Plan consisted of 32 measures and focused on three priority areas: prevention, enforcement, and cooperation (European Commission, 2016).

Wildlife crimes

According to the WWF Italia, among the species most endangered by wildlife trafficking, the sturgeon is on top of the list. One-third of sturgeon meat and caviar products have been sold illegally in four key sturgeon countries: Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine. Secondly, the illegal sale of ivory obtained from elephants has seen the number of these ancient species halved. It appears that three-quarters of the ivory sold in the EU come from poaching or illegal trade. More than 20,000 elephants are killed every year to sustain this market. In fact, between 2006 and 2015, the overall African elephant population plunged by more than 20 percent, generating an international illegal ivory trade worth approximately 17 billion euros every year (Statista, 2018). Lastly, tigers are the main target of poachers, who hunt these animals to produce traditional medicines and fur production (WWF Italia, 2022). Only 4000 wild tigers are left across Asia, while more than 8000 are held in captivity in China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and South Africa. Illegal poaching for their body parts is the main driving force behind the tiger’s decline in the natural environment. At least 2,359 tigers have been captured from the illicit trade since 2000, an approximative figure which presumably represents only a fraction of the actual size of the market (Environmental Investigation Agency, n.d.).

Wildlife and ecological trafficking have developed into billion-euro criminal businesses, prevailed by organised criminal groups. The attractiveness of these industries can be explained by the low detention risk and the insignificance of penalties, whilst the profits are comparable to those in the illegal arms trade and human trafficking. The number of criminals in this business has led to a rising outbreak of violence, with rangers losing their lives fighting wildlife trafficking (European Commission, 2016). The criminal activity that takes place is detrimental to the efforts of surveillance and maintenance carried out by rangers, as well as ordinary men and women, who put their lives at risk to protect biodiversity and the environment. The International Ranger Federation has estimated that in the last ten years, 1175 rangers have lost their lives during daily activities, although the actual figure could be as many as three times higher. Forty-five percent of these deaths are the result of murders caused by clashes with illegal poachers (WWF Italia, 2022).

Illegal logging and timber smuggling

Environmental crimes taking place in the European Union are also characterised by widespread illicit logging and timber smuggling. The European Commission defined illegal logging as the “harvesting of timber in contravention of the laws and regulations of the country of harvest. Illegal logging is a global problem with significant negative economic, environmental, and social impact” (European Commission, 2010). Each year in Romania, approximately 20 million cubic metres of wood are illegally trimmed from Romanian forests. Some of this timber is irregularly sold on the illegal market in Europe. The Carpathian Mountains of Northern Romania remain one of the last primaeval forests of Europe, characterised by unique species of flora and fauna. Romania is also home to over half of Europe’s latest old-growth and virgin forests, which are valuable ecosystems home to a wide variety of species. The logging activities of the so-called “wood mafia” are therefore endangering the hectares of ancient timberland and the lives and safety of the people who live and work on them. Within the country’s national forest management authority, Romsilva, 185 foresters have been physically attacked since 2014 while six more have been killed. An example of these attacks was reported by Euronews in 2020, when brothers Ilie and Dimitri Bucsa, responsible for breeding trout, tried to report that the fishpond water was contaminated by sludge brought by illegally felled wood dropped on the riverbanks. They were physically assaulted by illegal loggers as a result, and declared that these loggers “threatened us and beat us up. They caught us up the road and hit us on the head with clubs” (Euronews, 2020).

In 2019, Romania saw the killing of two forest rangers over a month, aggravating the fear for the security of those whose job is to protect the forests of this EU area. Forest ranger Liviu Pop was fatally shot with a hunting rifle after he went out to explore a potential case of illegal logging in the mountain region of Maramures in northern Romania. His colleagues became concerned and started to reach him through the phone, without any response. Local authorities found Liviu Pop’s body in a forested gorge. Shortly after his death, the corpse of a forest ranger, Raducu Gorcioaia, was found near an illegal logging site in the northeast region of the country, in the Pascani forest district. The killing of Liviu Pop and Raducu Gorcioaia has shown the ruthless levels of violence that illegal loggers are willing to apply to steal wood and make profits (McGrath, 2019).

In September 2021, Tiberiu Bosutar, an environmental activist from Agent Green (a Romanian non-governmental and nonprofit organisation for environmental protection), and two journalists allegedly were attacked by illegal loggers near the village of Panaci. They were making a documentary on illegal logging in the Romanian region, and eleven people participated in the attack. Agent Green’s activist Mircea Barbu reported right after this attack that

Last year, 227 people were killed worldwide whilst working to protect the environment. If we do not take these incidents seriously, Romania could soon be blacklisted. To stop this from happening, the authorities need to treat this incident with the utmost seriousness and strongly condemn such crimes (Euronatur, 2021).


The EU plays a pivotal role in tackling this traffic, as Europe is currently a target market and a hub for smuggling to other regions. Europe is also a region where unique species are sourced for illegal trade (European Commission, 2016). The evidence presented in this article shows the interconnection between widespread environmental crimes and human rights. Due to massive poaching and illegal timber trafficking, endangered species and timber increasingly face the risk of extinction. Moreover, the illicit trade of timber and wildlife poses serious threats to the security of forest and park rangers, who work to protect the environment and biodiversity. The case of the rangers killed and threatened in Romania represents only an example of what happens every day around the globe. 



Armstrong, M. (2018, April 3). The Ivory Trade in Numbers. Statista. Retrieved on 17 May 2022 from

Environmental Investigation Agency. (n.d.). Saving Tigers. EIA. Retrieved on 17 May 2022 from

Euronatur. (2021, September 21). Renewed violence against environmental activists in Romania. Euronatur. Retrieved on 10 May 2022 from

European Commission. (2016, February 29). EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking (COM (2016) 87 final). European Commission. Retrieved on 10 May 2022 from

European Commission. (2010). Forests. Retrieved on 10 May 2022 from 

Gauriat, V. (2020, March 20). Romania’s virgin forests ravaged by ‘wood mafia’. Euronews. Retrieved on 10 May 2022 from

IFAW. (2019). The European Union is widely considered to be the third largest destination for illegal wildlife. IFAW. Retrieved on 10 May 2022 from

McGrath, S. (2019, October 21). Romania forest murder as battle over logging turns violent. BBC News. Retrieved on 10 May 2022 from

WWF Italia. (2022, May 2). I crimini di natura minacciano salute e sviluppo. WWF Italia. Retrieved on 10 May 2022 from

WWF Italia. (2022). Stop ai crimini di natura: bracconaggio e traffico illegale, le specie a rischio, cosa fa il WWF e cosa possiamo fare noi. WWF Italia. Retrieved on 17 May 2022 from



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.