Since 2002 according to the Understanding Memorandum signed between RA Ministry of Nature Protection and OSCE office in Yerevan Public Environmental Information /Aarhus/ Centers started to act in the Republic of Armenia. From 2002 till now there were opened 15 Aarhus Centers in different regions of Armenia. In virtue of their activities information concerning environmental problem is component for Armenian habitants. Aarhus Centers also promote the public participation in environmental decision making process and in managing activity.
The history and the problems of the Aarhus Centers establishment
In 2001 the RoA ratified the Aarhus Convention, which was exclusive in the so called “ecological democracy” development. The Convention obliged the States, which have ratified it, to adopt a legislation that would ensure proper quality of the environment and would ensure legal protection of the people fighting for it.
By ratifying the Aarhus Convention, the Government has committed to harmonize its national legislation with the norms of the main provisions of the Convention, to provide access to environmental information, public participation procedural right and access to justice.
In 2002 aimed at supporting the environmental awareness, raising legal knowledge and legal practices, the OSCE Office in Yerevan in cooperation with the RA MNP established Yerevan Aarhus Center, the first such institution in the world.
Then, in response to the interest shown by the regional governments, successively centers were also opened in the regions with the OSCE support:
- Vanadzor Aarhus Center in Lori region (2005) taking into account the effects of the chemical industry and the use of tailings,
- Idjevan city in Tavush region (2005) taking into consideration the rational use of transboundary water resources and forest conservation and security issues,
- Almost simultaneously, taking into consideration the community desire to have an Aarhus Center, centers were opened in Goris (2005) and Dilidjan cities (2005) with he support of the OSCE Office in Yerevan for security at the local level and community capacity building.
- Gyumri (2007) and Stepanavan city (2008) Aarhus Centers were creayted on the civic society initiative, however, after having received a request from the NGOs for establishing Aarhus Centers, the OSCE also involved in the process Shirak marzpetaran and Stepanakert city municipality.
- Successively Aarhus Centres were established in Yeghegnadzor (2008), Gavar (2007), Hrazdan (2007), Alaverdi (2008), Yeghvard (2008), Aparan (2008), Ararat (2010) cities on the communities initiative, supported by the OSCE, the Ministry of Nature Protection and the Ministry of Territorial Administration. The leaders of the mentioned communities attached importance to the civil society proper awareness on the environmental issues in their community and the improvement of management of environmental issues, the bulk of which are aimed at the centers’ job.
In addition to this, the OSCE has also received numerous letters from other communities, but due to lack of funds, the number of Aarhus Centres was not increased, 15 centers exist today.During theses years the OSCE has taken a consistent work centers on improving the centers’ professional quality, providing technical equipment and daily working consulting. Local communities, highlighting the role of the centers as a link between the community and the management bodies, community and regional environmental extensive and versatile information center, eco-educational activities’ units, provided full support in providing premises free of charge and covering ongoing costs. The centers were able to create an atmosphere of solidarity and a constructive approach in working together related to community problematic issues.
Each of the centers, while pursuing the same objectives, has unique role at the local level and is managed independently by a board of local experts, half of which consists of members form state bodies, the other half is from the public sector.
The Center’s mission originally was to inform civic society with the requirements of the Aarhus Convention into national in accordance with the legal changes in the national legislation, that would give public leverages to protect their rights. However, apart from that, the need to educate people and to raise the level of ecological education was great, so that citizens could competently use the opportunities given to them under the Convention. Aarhus Centres therefore undertook educational mission.
However, despite the public’s environmental awareness and the centers efforts to encourage public participation in decision-making processes, the effective implementation of the legislation, so far there is non-complianceof the RA legislation with the requirements of the Convention. In terms of the main provisions public participation procedure and access to justice, Convention’s Compliance Committee has assessed the RA as non complying (the Compliance Committee’s recent decision can be seen by this link ( http://www.unece.org/environmental-policy/treaties/public-participation/aarhus-convention/envpptfwg/envppcc/envppccimplementation/fifth-meeting-of-the-parties-2014/armenia-decision-v9a.html ):
For this reason, public participation in environmental decision-making leads to conflict, rather than bringing a legal action.
In order to make the conflict into cooperation the Armenian Aarhus Centers are making efforts to make both with the governmental bodies and the public sector, to inform, to bring to round table discussions, they are recognized as an accepted and trusted platform by all the sides in the conformity activities of the national legislation with the requirements of the Convention, so tath the problematic issues could be solved through legal tools.
The establishment of the Aarhus Centres was more than necessary, because after the Soviet regime, when decisions were made on the top and directed to bottom, now the adoption of democratic track dictates a completely different approach, in which people should prepare and adopt the new rules. Moreover, the Aarhus Convention gave opportuinty for public to participate in the environental decision-making processes, to demand an adequate compensation for the damages caused to the health, environment and the property. Hence there was a need to bring all these to ordinary citizens who could not cut off from daily activities and rep the advantages and opportunities of its country’s development new path, to change itself and change the management of its longstanding position.
During the ten years of activity the Armenian Aarhus centers are recognized as “environmental” democracy makers, democratic islets. The results are more than obvious… The Aarhus centers took with them to the communities a new culture of using the internet, new culture of discussing and making decisions on the environmental issues, new educational level, extensive work with youth.
Aarhus Centers collect environmental data and implement permanent awareness work via e-mails, social networks, www.aarhus.am web site and Aarhus online TV http://aviplatform.com/user.items.php?id=185 .
For the implementation of their objectives the Aarhus centers in Armenia cooperate with the government, particularly the Ministry of Territorial Administration, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Nature Protection, local governments, international organizations (UNDP, GEF, GIZ, Red Cross National Platform of Climate, the Eastern Partnership, Disaster Risk Reduction National Platform, Public Environmental Alliance NGO, local and national CSOs, mass media and other institutions). This partnership is aimed at solving environmental problems in a peaceful way, highly estimate environment protection rather than market relations and economic interests, highly estimate environmental safety by ensuring the vitality of the communities.
The role of the OSCE for the establishment, support and development of the Aarhus Centers is unique, that cooperation and support helped centers freely to express their opinions before taking any action on community safety issues, appeal to international courts to seek allies and supporters of spreading the “green” democracy in the RA. Aarhus Centers support project in Armenia is recognized the best in the OSCE.
The main obstacle to the effective functioning of the Aarhus Centres is public participation in procedural rights, environmental protection and lack of access to justice.
In 2012 – 2015 the activities of the Aarhus Centers in Armenia was ensured by “BLEJAN” environmental, social, business support non-governmental organization.
These activities have been carried out by “BLEJAN” NGO funded by the OSCE Office in Yerevan within the framework of the “Assist the government and civil society in resolving environmental issues, strengthening the capacities of the state agencies and CSOs in the implementation of the Aarhus Convention” grant program, with consultative and direct support of the RA Ministries of Nature Protection and Territorial Administration and Emergency as well as LSGs and Regional Administrations.
The goal of the “Assist the government and civil society in resolving environmental issues, strengthening the capacities of the state agencies and CSOs in the implementation of the Aarhus Convention” program is to support LSGs (both in urban and rural communities) and improve cooperation of civil society organizations, promote transparency of LSGs activities in the field of environmental protection, support to the implementation of quality positive changes of management improvement.
On the initiative of “BLEJAN” NGO has been transformed and renewed the www.aarhus.am website.
In 2012, 2013 and 2015, in the program had been included the full service of www.aarhus.am website, while in 2013 the provision of hosting, the organization, highlighting the need for this tool in the promotion of public notification and public participation in the field of environment, not having funds designed for that very purpose, has ensured the website’s activity also in 2014.
In 2014, on the initiative of “BLEJAN” NGO, has been also realized the Aarhus online TV ensuring through the video recording high-quality, thorough and accessible information directly from the lips of experts, as well as in order to make the stakeholders virtual participants in public hearings, discussions and workshops.