Symposium at UNEA Brings Legal Community Together to Boost Environmental Rule of Law Wed, Jun 25, 2014

The Global Symposium on Environmental Rule of Law

Closing ceremony of Environmental Rule of Law Symposium with (from left), Hon. Justice Winston Anderson, Judge, Caribbean Court of Justice, Hon. Justice Antonio Benjamin, Judge, High Court of Brazil, Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Hon. Justice Philip Waki, Court of Appeals, Kenya, and Scott Fulton, Member, UNEP International Advisory Council for Environmental Justice; Principal, Beveridge & Diamond, P.C.; Visiting Scholar, ELI; Adjunct Professor, George Washington University Law School.

Nairobi, 25 June 2014 - The Global Symposium on Environmental Rule of Law, held at the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, brought together Chief Justices, Heads of Jurisdiction, Attorneys General, Auditors General, Chief Prosecutors, lawyers and legal experts to raise awareness of the role of environmental law as an indispensable tool in achieving sustainable development and a Green Economy.

Recent research confirms that only 4 out of 90 of the world's most important environmental goals have registered significant progress. The financial toll of just one aspect of this shortfall on the global economy, that from international organized environmental crime, is US$70 to 213 billion annually, according to the joint UNEP-INTERPOL report, The Environmental Crime Crisis. The human toll is even greater: UNEP estimates that at least 40 per cent of internal conflicts over the last 60 years are linked to the exploitation of natural resources.

The symposium was delivered in two sessions. The first session explored different aspects of environmental rule of law as it relates to human rights and accountability. The second session dealt with the key components of enforcing environmental law.

Following the official opening of the symposium by Deputy Chief Justice of Kenya, Kalpana Rawal, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner described UNEA as a global platform that offers environmental law makers, implementers and enforcers a unique opportunity to spotlight the indispensable role of the rule of law in the protection, preservation and sustainable management of natural resources, and the protection of human rights.

Mr. Steiner said that he was impressed by the interest in the symposium, seeing all of those present as critical players in fostering the environmental rule of law, which he described as an issue that should concern everyone, and not just lawyers.

"Without UNEA, this group of stakeholders would likely never have convened at such a high-level event, and in such great numbers to discuss the pivotal role of the rule of law in ensuring our transition to a more sustainable and inclusive global economy," said Ms. Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General, of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),

Justice Antonio Benjamin from the High Court of Brazil- also Secretary General, UNEP International Advisory Council for Environmental Justice and Secretary General, UNEP World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability-led the interactive discussions on some of the most critical aspects of environmental rule of law as it relates to human rights and accountability.

Presenting a judicial perspective on human rights and the environment, Justice Winston Anderson, Caribbean Court of Justice, described environmental rule of law as an essential means of correcting social and economic injustices. Justice Benjamin also charted the journey of human rights and the environment from 1972, when an overlap between the two was first acknowledged, to its constitutional recognition vis-à-vis landmark cases heard in the Inter American and European Courts of Human Rights.

"The rule of law is a key tool to address inequalities, and environmental rights should be enshrined in constitutions and conventions," he said. "Although there is a transnational culture of environmental protection, an international court for the environment should be established."

Effective access to information, public participation and access to justice were described as important for transparent and accountable governance and to strengthen the public's trust in governing institutions.

Dr. Lalanath de Silva, Director of the Access Initiative, World Resources Institute, said, "Citizens are fighting for the rule of law, the right to information, the right to take part in decision-making and access to justice. Civil society should have the opportunity to challenge government decision-making that is not grounded in sound reason, science and law."

Mr. Scott Fulton, Adjunct Professor, George Washington University Law School, and former General Counsel and Appeals Judge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), introduced the symposium's second session on environmental rule of law enforcement.

Participants were informed that although close to 130 national constitutions contain a right to a safe, healthy, and ecologically balanced environment, violations of environmental laws often fail to prompt the required response from governments and the law enforcement agencies. Such crimes are often still perceived as 'soft crimes' or 'victimless crimes', despite the actual and potential scale and consequences.

David Higgins, Assistant Director of INTERPOL's Environmental Security Sub-Directorate, described some of the types of crimes and other violations of environmental law, including the illegal trade in protected species; smuggling of ozone depleting substances; illicit trade in hazardous waste; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; and illegal logging and trade in timber. He described how environmental crime is fast evolving and therefore requires better-coordinated preventive actions and responses at national, regional and international levels. This was followed with a discussion on the capacity of institutions to enforce environmental law.

"Increased efforts are required to strengthen the capacity of courts and other tribunals, enforcement agencies, auditing institutions and other stakeholders to prosecute the perpetrators of environmental crimes," said Ms. Silvia Capelli, Senior Public Prosecutor, Brazil, and President of the Latin American Network of Environmental Public Prosecutors.

"There still exists a general misperception that environmental crime is somehow a lesser offence than other types of crime," said Mr. Tony Oposa, President, Law of Nature Foundation, Philippines. "On the contrary, environmental crimes that involve pollutants and the disposal of hazardous wastes can destroy local economies and damage human health inter-generationally."

A number of panelists shared good practices of successful prosecution of environmental crimes at the national and regional level. They explained how such cases lead to the strengthening of legislative instruments and enhanced capacity of courts and tribunals to bring the perpetrators of environmental crimes to justice.

"While delivering environmental justice is fraught with challenges, we have heard many successful approaches to environmental enforcement today, from which we can all learn and apply in varying degrees, to our own national and regional contexts," said Chief Justice Md. Muzammel Hossain of Bangladesh.

Mr. Steiner, bringing the event to a close, said that the global community must move forward in making environmental rule of law a reality for all by realizing its intrinsic value for environmental justice and sustainable development. It must work towards eliminating financial and other barriers obstructing access to justice in environmental matters. Investment in environmental legislation and support to legislators should be increased. UNEA, UNEP and its partners, will continue to play a supportive role in this process.

The outcomes and recommendations of the symposium have been forwarded to UNEA to inform, guide and enrich the debate on sustainable development goals and the post-2015 development agenda, including sustainable consumption and production as well as the ministerial dialogue on illegal trade in wildlife.

They will also be further enriched through follow-up work by the UNEP led World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability and through the International Advisory Council for Environmental Justice.

Some of the major outcomes of the symposium included:

1. Environmental Rule of Law is indispensable to sustainable development. Its further development and implementation will help to ensure just and sustainable development outcomes.

2. Law, coupled with strong institutions to implement it, is essential for societies to respond to increasing environmental pressures in a way that respects fundamental rights and principles of fairness, including to future generations.

3. Only through environmental rule of law can conditions be established under which justice and respect for environmental obligations arising from treaties and other sources of law can be maintained.

4. Through publicly promulgated and adequate environmental laws, which are equally enforced and independently adjudicated, the environmental rule of law reducing corruption, ensures accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, respect for human rights - and delivers environmental justice.

5. The illegal exploitation of natural resources, and especially the surging illegal trade in wildlife, is a growing concern. It highlights the importance of environmental rule of law and has impacts not only on the environment but on peace and security, national economies and involves sophisticated international criminal syndicates.

6. The world's Chief Justices, Attorneys General, Judges, Chief Prosecutors, Auditors General, leading legal scholars, practitioners and experts, and all relevant stakeholders must continue the dialogue on environmental rule of law in order to increase cooperation and the broad ownership of environmental rule of law measures.

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About the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)

UNEA is the highest-level UN body ever convened on the environment. It enjoys universal membership of all 193 UN member states as well as other stakeholder groups. With this wide reach into the legislative, financial and development arenas, the new body presents a ground-breaking platform for leadership on global environmental policy. UNEA boasts over 1200 participants, 170 national delegations, 112 delegations headed at minister level and 40 events during the five-day event from 23 to 27 June 2014 at UNEP's Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

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