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28.01.2008

Where is the Aarhus Convention?

   

Prominent environmental and human rights activists have put their signatures to a letter addressed to Ukraine’s leaders. In it they give a scathing assessment of Ukraine’s adherence to the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters and make a number of urgent recommendations for action.

The environmentalists worked together during 2006 and 2007 on monitoring observance of environmental rights.  They found a systemic nature to violations of all the rights which the Aarhus Convention covers.  Reasons for this include:

  • the fact that many normative legal acts do not comply with international standards;
  • application of the law is inadequate;
  • the lack of political will from those in authority.

And all this as Ukraine moves closer to the tenth anniversary in June 2008 of its signing of the Aarhus Convention.  The Convention was passed within the framework of “Environment for Europe” and aimed at future cooperation between European nations on protecting the environment. 

Despite the fact that since the Verkhovna Rada ratified the Convention in 1999, it has become a part of domestic legislation,  its provisions are still not being properly enforced.

In their letter, the environmentalists point out that Ukraine is signatory to the Aarhus Convention which renders untenable attempts by the Cabinet of Ministers to pass responsibility for the Convention’s implementation to the Ministry for Environmental Protection, without binding all other government bodies to play their role.

They believe that the President, the Verkhovna Rada, the Human Rights Ombudsperson, the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are failing their duties in not overseeing observance of the Aarhus Convention. 

As a result, amendments have only been made to four laws in compliance with the Convention, namely: “On protection of the natural environment”

“On environmental impact assessments”

“On local self-government in Ukraine”

The Code of Administrative Offences

Changes clearly required to other laws, including the Law on Information have yet to be implemented.

Nor are the current laws and subordinate legislation being properly implemented.

There have been no National Reports on the State of the Environment for 2005 or 2006, despite review of such reports by the Verkhovna Rada on an annual basis being a requirement of the Law “On protection of the natural environment”

In violation of Article 5 of the Convention, neither the Ministry for Environmental Protection nor other government bodies have yet drawn up and published lists of the environmental information they are in possession of, and conditions of access to this information.

Virtually nothing has been done to create a nationwide computerized system for ensuring access to environmental information which according to Article 10 of the Law “On protection of the natural environment”, the Law “On local self-government in Ukraine”, and resolutions by the Verkhovna Rada and Cabinet of Ministers should have been functional as far back as 2005.

The interpretation of the very concept “environmental information” given in the Law “On protection of the natural environment” differs from that in the Aarhus Convention.  It excludes such important areas as information about state of health and safety, living conditions, the state of cultural structures and the degree to which the environment has or could have impact upon them.

“Regulations on procedure for providing environmental information” (Order of the Ministry for Environmental Protection from 18.12.2003 No. 169 does not mean international standards regarding access to environmental information in that it allows for this to be classified as State secrets and restricts the number of questions in a formal requests for information.

It should be noted that the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention in Almati (2005) found that Ukraine, together with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, were failing to adhere to the Convention.

Yet this information has been consistently concealed from the Ukrainian public.

In June 2008 the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention will be held in Riga. We would note that in the last two and a half years the Government has still not implemented the recommendations from the Second Meeting that Ukraine:

- bring its legislation and practice into line with the provisions of the Convention; :

- no later than the end of 2005 present the UN EEC Committee on Observance of the Convention with a Strategy Plan for integrating its provisions in domestic legislation, together with the relevant schedules, practical mechanisms and procedure for enforcing implementing legislation.

Such procrastination is unacceptable given Ukraine’s Euro-integration plans. If the situation is not rectified as a matter of urgency, Ukraine will face even harsher criticism and inevitable sanctions.

If the issue of political liability by government officials for the longstanding failure to implement the provisions of the Aarhus Convention is not raised, we should forget all the political declarations about Ukraine’s democratic and European choice.

The letter’s authors call for the following immediate measures

  1. Draw up within a short period Strategy and Action Plans on integrating the provisions of the Aarhus Convention into domestic legislation with this including practical mechanisms; procedure and measures for increasing application in law;
  2. The Cabinet of Ministers, Verkhovna Rada and Presidential Secretariat should thoroughly analyze the degree to which government bodies are adhering to legislation on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, and inform the public about the results of such an analysis’
  3. Bring legislation and practice into line with the provisions of the Convention by:

- Accelerating preparation of draft laws in keeping with modern principles of access to information, including a new version of the Law “On information”;

- accelerate preparation of Cabinet of Ministers resolutions establishing specific procedure for ensuring access to environmental information and public participation in decision-making;

- introduction of amendments or revoking of current normative legal acts  which do not comply with Aarhus Convention standards on access to environmental information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters;

  1. For the purpose of general coordination, create a National Commission on Monitoring Adherence to the Aarhus Convention, involving representatives of civic organizations;
  2. Envisage the creation of infrastructure relevant for providing environmental information, as well as educational and awareness-raising activities, including those for public officials and officials from bodies of local self-government, judges, deputies and members of the public;
  3. Publish in Ukrainian in the official media channels the main documents of the UN EEC Committee on Observance of the Aarhus Convention, and 5. У системі впровадження and the Meetings of the Parties, as well as all decisions concerning Union.

The letter’s authors ask for a response to be provided in according with Article 20 of the Law “On citizens’ appeals”.

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