Open letter addressed to the NA President and MPs on the failure to fulfill assignments of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee

519 view

To:

Chairman and Deputies of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia;

The Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention

OPEN LETTER

We Can Search. But we can find nothing.

Dear Sirs/Madams,

We would like to inform you that the Republic of Armenia continuously does not perform the obligations provided by the international conventions related to environmental issues. Furthermore, Armenia fails to comply with the provisions prescribed by its own (Government) decisions.

Taking into account the current situation, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Armenia, being a Party to Aarhus Convention /since 2001/, again has not complied with the recommendations of the Compliance Committee of the Convention.

In 2004, 2006 and 2008 the UN European Economic Commission decided that the Republic of Armenia violated several provisions of the Aarhus Convention in relation to the Government’s decisions concerned to the Yerevan Dalma Gardens /Dalma Orchards/.

Particularly, the Government didn’t inform the interested public (including the 1800 land-users of the above mentioned Dalma Gardens) about its intention to destroy the 750 acres agricultural land, which is also considered as world-historical /see: the massive grape fortress Teyshebaini , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rusa_II / territory, failed to provide opportunities for public participation in decision-making processes for the designation of land use. Moreover, in that decision-making process the Government had not taken into account the concerned public opinion and interests.

3-rd Meeting of Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters adopted a Decision N III/6b, which set out someconclusions and recommendations with regard to compliance by Armenia (ECE/MP.PP/2008/2/Add.10) to the provisions of the Aarhus Convention. For example:

$1- develop detailed procedures for public participation in decision-making;

$1- ensure practical application of public participation procedures at all levels of decision-making;

- undertake appropriate practical measures to ensure effective access to justice, including the availability of adequate and effective remedies to challenge the legality of decisions on matters regulated by Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention;

$1- submit to the Committee periodically, namely in November 2008, November 2009 and November 2010, detailed information on further progress in implementing the recommendations set out above.

Now it is clear that Armenia is not aware with these recommendations.

This becomes clear from the answers to written inquires of the Armenian environmental NGO “Dalma-Sona” Fund to almost all authorities in charge of the Aarhus Convention in Armenia, including RA President, Prime Minister, Minister of Justice, Chairman of the RA Constitutional Court, Human Rights Ombudsman.

Only one reasonable answer /N10/4209-13; 19.07.2013/ was received from the RA Minister of Justice who responded that that Ministry does not have the information requested by us.

There was no answer from the President and the Prime Minister’s Administration offices. The Constitutional Court responded that this issue is beyond the scope of its authority, although Armenian obligations under the Aarhus Convention were fixed in the RA Constitutional Courts’ Decision N SDO-269 dated December 26, 2000.

Ombudsman’s Office sent a note of the Minister of Nature Protection advising us to search the requested information in the Ministry’s official website.

We Can Search. But we can find nothing.

On another occasion, the same Ministry /N5/121/51752, 20.06.2013/ informed us that only 3 /three/ National Reports were sent to the Compliance Committee from Armenia: in 2005, 2008 and 2011. In these 3 reports these issues were not addressed.

In the meantime we would like to mention following points:

- the RA Ministry of Nature Protection recognized that in Armenia there are real problems in regards to public participation in decision-making processing and in the access to justice;

- the RA Ministry of Justice informed us that the President approved 2012-2016 Reform Program, after realization of which we will have «independent, impartial and honest court system, which will be reportable to public» /N10/3424-13. 17.06.2013/.

According to this declaration we should assume that Armenia will be able to fulfill the recommendation of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee /III/6b/ concerned to the point of access to justice, including the establishment of appropriate assistance mechanisms to remove or reduce financial and other barriers to access to justice – SINCE 2017.

After the III/6b Decision on Dalma Gardens the Aarhus Compliance Committee reaffirmed that Armenia again violated the provisions of the Convention, this time in «case concerning public participation in the decision-making and access to justice in connection with the issuance and renewal of licenses to a developer for the exploitation of copper and molybdenum deposits in the Lori region of Armenia».

Mindful of the conclusions and recommendations set out in decision III/6b with

regard to compliance by Armenia (ECE/MP.PP/2008/2/Add.10), the fourth

session of the Meeting of the Parties adopted a new Decision IV/9a on compliance by Armenia with its obligations under the Convention.

The said Decision provided below listed additional recommendations:

- to accelerate the process for the new legislation on environmental impact assessment (EIA), including procedures on public participation in it, to be finalized and come into effect;

- to take the necessary legislative, regulatory and administrative measures and practical arrangements to ensure that:

(a) thresholds for activities subject to an EIA procedure, including public participation, are set in a clear manner;

(b) the public is informed as early as possible on the decision-making procedure,

when all options are open, and that reasonable timeframes are set for the public to consult and comment on project-related documentation;

(c) the responsibilities of different actors (public authorities, local authorities,

developer) in the organization of public participation procedures are defined as clearly as possible.

It was also recommended that Armenia should consider the above elements in finalizing its law on environmental impact assessment, and provide a draft of the new law to the Committee as soon as possible.

In fact, Armenia still does not fulfil the Committees’ assignments concerned to adopting of all detailed procedures on public participation in environmental impact evaluation, assessment and decision-making processes /at very early stages/ and enforcing them.

Moreover, the recommended detailed procedures and rules are not finalized, are not enforced, they even are not designed.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the recommended procedures will be adopted and will enter into force in the near future.

If the International Organizations will not force Armenia to do that, we do not believer that this will ever happen, because it’s probably not so easy to do, otherwise we would have had them since 1995.

According to the provisions of the RA Law “On Environmental Impact Assessment” adopted by the National Assembly of RA in 1995, the RA Government should adopt the above mentioned procedures, as well as other procedures required by the named Law. Since then 18 years have passed.

Article 2 of the International Convention «On Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context» (Espoo Convention) also requires «the establishment of an environmental impact assessment procedure that permits public participation and preparation of the environmental impact assessment documentation described in Appendix II of Convention (e.g. methodological Guidelines for impact assessment of the planned Concept Document and/or Proposed activity). Also,

The Party shall ensure that in accordance with the provisions of this Convention an environmental impact assessment is undertaken prior to a decision to authorize or undertake a proposed activity».

Armenia has joined to this Convention in 1996, and it entered into force for Armenia since September 10, 1997.

The Government of RA since that time periodically adopted several Decrees on necessity of adopting of above mentioned detailed procedures, regulations, standards, methodologies, guidelines and other documents, but never adopted them.

/See the RA Decrees NN: 115 dated 25 February 1998; 1840-N dated December 2, 2004; 880-N dated 16 January 2005; etc./.

Thus, during quite long period there was no any detailed procedure and an issue of the real public participation in decision-making procedure on environmental and human health impact assessment and expert examination has never been legally regulated. Therefore, we do not have any trust that they will be adopted very soon.

A new draft Law “On Environmental Impact Assessment” submitted by the RA Government to the National Assembly does not contain a single procedure, while the Compliance Committee’s decision clearly states that these procedures /more detailed/ should be entered into force together with the “improved” Law.

Considering the above mentioned points, we would request to return the new draft Law “On Environmental Impact Assessment” for further revision and to take relevant measures to develop a draft law according to the Aarhus Compliance Committee’s recommendations provided in the above mentioned two Decisions (III/6b and IV/9a).

Ruzanna Ghazaryan

Chairman of Board of Trustees of “Dalma-Sona” Fund;

II Grade Civil Service Counceller

Aarhus Convension Compliance Decision III/6b

Aarhus Convension Compliance Decision IV/9a