Press releases

Sunday 18 Aug 2002

Top Judges Meet in Johannesburg to Boost Prospects for Enforcing Environment-Related Laws.

Biggest Gathering of its Kind Comes Days Before Crucial World Summit on Sustainable Development

Biggest Gathering of its Kind Comes Days Before Crucial World Summit on Sustainable Development

Nairobi/Johannesburg, 18 August 2002 - An international effort to strengthen the implementation of environmentally-related laws is to be launched by some of the world's most powerful judges meeting on the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

Experts are convinced that, the world-wide effort to crack down on pollution, challenge environmentally-damaging developments and comply with agreements covering issues such as hazardous wastes to the trade in endangered species is being undermined partly as a result of weaknesses in many countries legal systems. But mainly as a result of the lax way in which these laws are being implemented and enforced.

These weaknesses are particularly acute in many developing countries and nations of the former Soviet Union where lack of resources, the difficulties of turning international treaties into national laws and lack of awareness, if not apathy, as a result of difficult economic conditions are making it harder for cases to reach or succeed in the courts.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which has organized the meeting, said: "The field of law has, in many ways, been the poor relation in the world-wide effort to deliver a cleaner, healthier and ultimately fairer world. We have over 500 international and regional agreements, treaties and deals covering everything from the protection of the ozone layer to the conservation of the oceans and seas. Almost all, if not all, countries have national environmental laws too. But unless these are complied with, unless they are enforced, then they are little more than symbols, tokens, paper tigers".

"This is an issue affecting billions of people who are effectively being denied their rights and one of not only national but regional and global concern. We are increasingly aware that what happens in one part of the world can affect in another part of the globe-- be it toxic pollutants from Asia, Europe and North America contaminating the Arctic, the greenhouse gases of the industrialised regions triggering droughts or the melting of glaciers in the less industrialised ones or the regional build up of 'hazes' or ' Brown Clouds' as is evidenced across much of Asia," he said.

"So I am convinced that the wisdom and stature of the senior judges, gathering here in Johannesburg on the eve of WSSD where world leaders are meeting to chart a new and more sustainable course for planet Earth, will give us an action plan that will see improvements for people not only in developing countries but for everyone, everywhere, "said Mr Toepfer.

The Global Judges Symposium, attended by some 90 justices and believed to be the largest gathering ever of senior judges to discuss environmental and development issues, is scheduled to run from 18 to 20 August at the Kopanong Hotel and Conference Center, Johannesburg. It is being co-hosted by Justice Arthur Chaskalson, Chief Justice of South Africa.

A key part of the talks centres on how to take forward access to information, public participation and access to justice as enshrined in the 1992 Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

Their work is likely to look at global and regional ways of strengthening public involvement in environment decision-making as embodied in the Aarhus Convention which entered into force on 30 October 2001 and involves European countries. It is a ground-breaking agreement because it brings human rights and environmental rights together.

Aarhus also recognises that giving the public access to solid, reliable, information is one of the keys to ensuring that governments and, if necessary, the courts meet their responsibilities. The public will only be in a position to fight environmental degradation when armed with full and free access to all relevant information is the Convention's mantra.

Aarhus is a land mark in another way. Unlike most "environmental" conventions that seek to control, say a chemical, or protect a species, this one does neither. It cuts across issues setting the question of the environment firmly in the arena of human rights and government accountability.

The symposium, which brings together Chief Justices and other senior judges from North America, Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America as well as judges from the International Court of Justice and other international courts and tribunals, also seeks to develop a network of judicial experts to promote the exchange of ideas and judgements in the field of environmental and development law.

It is hoped that the overall action plan will also lead to better training of all sectors of society involved in environment-related law from judges to prosecutors, magistrates, customs officers and the police.

Notes to Editors
-A mandate was given to UNEP through theMontevideo Programmes I (1981), II (1992) and III (2001) to provide incentives and initiatives for judicial capacity building for promoting sustainable development.

The Global Symposium seeks to build on six Regional Judicial Symposia held in Africa (1996), South Asia (1997), South East Asia (1999), Latin America (2000), the Caribbean (2001) and the Pacific (2002).

The symposium is sponsored by UNEP with the cooperation of the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE), the World Bank Institute, the United Nations University, ENVIROLAW, the IUCN, the Environmental Law Institute, the Ford Foundation and the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

For More Information Please Contact- Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 733 632755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

During the symposium Nick Nuttall can also be contacted at the Kopanong Hotel and Conference Center on Tel: 27 11 963 1100

A list of scheduled attendees is available by e-mail

UNEP News Release 2002/57

Sunday 18 Aug 2002
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