International committee of legal experts will discuss the possibilities of saving snow leopards

17.12.2014 - PRAGUE/GENEVA/ALMATY

Saving the homes of the last two hundreds snow leopards in Kazakhstan will be the main discussion topic for the international committee of legal experts who oversee the implementation of the rights of the public to participate in the decision-making process regarding the environment. The natural habitat of the snow leopard is put at risk by plans of building a high-class ski resort. A group of companies supported by several politicians is lobbying for the project taking place in the pristine nature of the Ile-Alatau National Park, located in the Tien Shan mountains. Although the citizens protest against privatization and the devastation of nature, the authorities have been ignoring their points of view. Kazakhstan is thus violating an international agreement.

"The fight to save the snow leopard is the most visible manifestation of the awakening of civil society in Kazakhstan. Residents of Kazakhstan experience difficulties when trying to access information, and if they want to have a say in the decision-making process alongside officials and politicians, they often get into sticky situations. Although Kazakhstan is a free country, the culture of official decision making process is often reminiscent of the Czechoslovak totalitarian regime. But people have a right to live in a healthy environment, and not just because they are guaranteed so by international conventions," comments Martin Skalský, head of the Center for Citizens' Support at Arnika, on the situation in Kazakhstan.

Czech citizens can also join the petition against the construction of a megalomaniac ski resort. All they have to do is open the following website (www.zachranme-irbise.cz) where they can find the complete text of the petition and also other ways how to help. So far, almost 3,000 people have joined the fight.

Local authorities have banned public meetings in support of the Ile-Alatau National Park. Yet, the reservation is nominated for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Kazakh authorities have organized a public discussion of the ski resort project two years ago during Christmas, however, they refused to show up projects and studies to the citizens. Before the actual discussions took place, the door to the hall were blocked by the police and the official web site with relevant information was shut down. Since Even though some people got into the hall after journalists began to gather there, not everyone had a chance to submit their comments. Rumor has it that the person behind this project is one of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's daughters. Nazarbayev has been in power for 24 years now.

In order to circumvent the law prohibiting the construction in the national park, officials have removed thousands of hectares from the protected areas list, thus enabling the consortium to build on these unique places. Civic Association Green Salvation has brought all decisions before court, however, the costly lawsuits plod along.

Furthermore, the defenders of the national park believe that Kazakhstan's media are facing political pressure as well. After the initial significant interest in the case, Kazakh media do not discuss the issue at all.

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