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Maastricht Declaration is Reviewing the Aarhus Centers as a Tool for the Implementation of the Aarhus Convention

08.07.2014
The fifth session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP 5) to the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), and the second session of MOP (MOP 2) the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) was held in Maastricht, the Netherlands from 29 June to 5 July 2014.
The event served as a platform for countries ratified the Aarhus Convention, representatives of international and non-governmental organizations, civil society and other stakeholders to discuss environment related issues, including
achievements and challenges towards the three pillars of the Aarhus Convention.
The report on the implementation of the Aarhus Convention in Armenia was presented by K. Hakobyan, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Nature Protection of the RA.Stressing the role and importance of the Convention’s pillars for Armenia, Mr. Hakobyan highlighted the role of the Aarhus Centers, in the implementation of the Aarhus Convention in Armenia, noting that in support of the Ministry of Territorial Administration the RA and the OSCE Office in Yerevan, and the local government, 15 Aarhus centers are operating in Armenia, due to which environmental information becomes available for the general public, the centers have key role in raising the level of public awareness on environmental issues and involving the public in the decision making process, as well as disseminating the principles of democracy in Armenia.

Let’s remind that Armenia ratified the Aarhus Convention in 2001, but has serious problems related to its implementation. The legislation of Armenia does not ensure and provide guarantee for the 3 fundamental rights anticipated by the Convention. About this statement was made by A. Grigoryan, lawyer, chairman of the “Environmental Law” NGO. For more details see: http://aarhus.am/?page_id=5741&lang=en

The Compliance Committee adopted decision V/9a on compliance by Armenia with its obligations under the Convention: http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/mop5/Documents/Category_I_documents/ECE_MP.PP_2014_L.10_ENG.pdf
In this document is mentioned that Armenia has not carried out its obligations under the Convention, particularly the committee had found non-compliance with article 6 on Public Participation, Article 3, paragraph 1, which provides clear, simple and coherent mechanisms for implementing the pillars of the Convention, there are some problems in decision-making in the early stages of public awareness and participation, as well as a number of other, including with respect to access to justice. Through this document the Compliance Committee provides a set of recommendations and hopes that Armenia will implement them willingly.

In the document V/9a of the Compliance Committee is stressed that Armenia should adopt a new law “On Environmental Impact Evaluation and Expertise”, in which would be included the public participation procedures.
Note, however, that the RA National Assembly on June 21 has adopted the same law in an expedited procedure during a day, in which are missing public participation procedures, as well as the law has a number of shortcomings, with regard to which the community has raised a storm of protest.

Within the frameworks of the Maastricht meeting was held the Aarhus Centers interim meeting, which was organized by the OSCE. The meeting was attended by representatives of 14 Aarhus Centers from Armenia, Albania, Georgia and a number of other countries, the OSCE head office and the respective countries offices, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), the Austrian Federal Ministry for Agriculture Forestry Environment and Water Management as well as representatives of other organizations. The meeting provided an opportunity to learn how the 56 Aarhus Centers operating in 14 countries contribute to the environmental protection, democracy and transparency in governance.
On the agenda of the meeting was included the Strategic Plan (2015-20) of the implementation of the Aarhus Convention:
http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/mop5/Documents/Category_I_documents/ECE.MP.PP.2014.L.5_e.pdf
and the Aarhus Centers support for the Plan implementation.
From Armenia this meeting was attended by T. Dembski, Economic and Environmental Programme Officer at the OSCE Office in Yerevan, G. Ghazinyan, Environmental Programme Officer at the OSCE Office in Yerevan, S. Ayvazyan, Coordinator of Yerevan Aarhus Center as well as A. Iskoyan, Aarhus Convention National Focal Point.

In his speech, T. Dembski highlighted the Armenian Aarhus Centers role at the national, international, local and regional levels in respect of ensuring transparency and democracy. The latter noted that as a result of their 10 years activity the Aarhus Centers have contributed to formation of a competent and demanding society, providing the latter reliable and credible environmental information. In parallel with the speech was shown the presentation made by the Aarhus Centers team, in which picturesque, simple and affordable was represented the Aarhus Centers functioning.

During the meeting was highly appreciated the Armenian Aarhus Centers experience, and at the end the Coordinator of Yerevan Aarhus Center gave an interview concerning the Armenian Aarhus Centers new online television: the Aarhus TV: http://aviplatform.com/user.items.php?id=185 and “Youth for the Aarhus” initiatives: http://aarhus.am/?page_id=5198&lang=en

The last two days of the Maastricht meeting were dedicated to the PRTR Protocol. N. Hovhannisyan, coordinating the Protocol works in Armenia noted that Armenia has signed the Protocol in 2003 and currently works are being carried out for the ratification of the Protocol, particularly in direction of raising awareness of government agencies and public on the legislative changes and the Protocol.

The important document which was adopted at the fifth Session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention was the Maastricht declaration: http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/mop5/Documents/Category_I_documents/ECE.MP.PP.2014.L.26_e.pdf, which symbol is transparency, as a driving force for environmental democracy. In this document the Aarhus centers are observed as a tool for the implementation of the Aarhus Convention.

Silva Ayvazyan
Coordinator of Yereevan Aarhus Center
Translated by Anush Beybutyan