Governments call for stronger protection of environmental activists and criticize Belarus for persecution

14.9.2017 - BUDVA (MONTENEGRO)
Persecuted Belarusian journalist Tatyana Novikova (on the screen) during the meeting in Budva, Montenegro
Photo: Majda Slamova

Governments of 46 countries are seriously concerned over harassment of environmental defenders which is increasing globally. Budva Declaration, of the UNECE Aarhus Convention Meeting of the Parties, urges politicians to ensure protection of activists, whistleblowers, and non-governmental organizations. The members also denounced the Belarusian government for recent harassment of anti-nuclear activists. Striving for larger openness, activists recently launched a reporting website, www.stop-persecution.org, which collects evidence of oppression from the countries in Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The ministers and heads of delegation from signatory countries at the Convention were “particularly alarmed” by the increase in the harassment, silencing, and even murder of environmental activists globally states Thursday’s declaration. This sentiment was welcomed greatly by non-governmental organizations.

“Reaching sustainable development goals envisioned by the United Nations is not viable without the broad involvement of citizens. Increases in harassment of environmental defenders adds serious obstacles to dealing with environmental issues in many countries,” explains Martin Skalsky of Czech NGO Arnika. “We welcome recognition of the issue by the parties to the Aarhus Convention and their commitment to stop the persecution,” he proclaims.

New testimonies of serious harassment of environmental defenders were reported in last few days on www.stop-persecution.org website which was launched recently by Arnika together with partnered Belarusian NGO, Ecohome. Assualts in Ukraine, police violence in many countries, false accusation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or state bodies bullying in the Czech Republic, Macedonia, and Kazakhstan can be read on the website.

Belarus is guilty of persecution, the conference claims
The governments also adopted the decision regarding the first case which dealt with harassment of environmental defenders that was never brought to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee. They confirmed that the Belarusian governing bodies persecuted activists who opposed the construction of the Ostrovets nuclear power plant in 2012.

“Although the controversial construction continues, this decision is essential for the future. The international community recognized that governments shall not obstruct the people from access to information and participation in decision making,” Marina Dubina of Ecohome states. “We are surprised by the number of other cases reported recently from various countries that simply confirm importance of the issue,” she adds.

Another case that was discussed was very recent police violence against citizens in the village of Kruscica which is in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Viktor Bjelic, director of Center for the Environment, informed the delegates: “On Tuesday, the police riot struck the bridge-blocking residents who were protesting against hydropower plant construction. The permitting process was full of irregularities, suffered by low public involvement, and breached the Aarhus Convention.” 

The non-governmental organizations raised the question of quick reactions to the cases of harassment on international level. “While the investigation of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee might take several years, the imprisoned, threatened, or violently attacked people require help immediately. Establishment of such mechanism is a challenge for the Aarhus Convention in the future,” Skalsky concludes.

 

Arnika – Martin Holzknecht, International PR: +420 602 850 912, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


More photos from the MOP to the Aarhus Convention available HERE

Notes:

1/ Budva Declaration, adopted by the governments on 14 September 2017 (excerpt):

“We are particularly alarmed by the increase in the harassment, silencing, and even murder of environmental activists around the world. To this end, we recall our commitment made through the Maastricht Declaration on Transparency as a Driving Force for Environmental Democracy (Maastricht Declaration) to protect the rights of environmental activists and whistle-blowers. We also recall the resolution of the Human Rights Council on protecting human rights defenders including those addressing environmental issues.

We call upon Parties to ensure due protection of environmental activists, whistle-blowers, and NGOs so that they can exercise their rights under the Aarhus Convention and its Protocol on Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers without being threatened in any way.”

Full text of the Declaration can be found on UNECE website

2/ Aarhus Convention on environmental democracy is an UNECE document signed by 46 countries and the EU. This week a Meeting of the Parties who agreed to this international agreement was held in Budva, Montenegro. Access to this information and public participation on decision making and judicial protection are being discussed during the conference.

3/ Press-release on launching the reporting website: “Stop the persecution of environmental activists!” a new website for whistle-blowers appeals (September 6, 2017)  

4/ Decision of Parties to the Aarhus Convention on harassment of environmental activists in Belarus. Full text

Belarusian journalist, Tatyana Novikova, and Russian nuclear scientist, Andrey Ozharovskiy, were persecuted by the state bodies for organizing protests aimed against nuclear power plant construction located close to Belarusian-Lithuanian borders. Ozharovskiy was banned from the country for 10 years, and Novikova was restrained and imprisoned. The case is closely described on the whistleblowing website: Government against antinuclear activists in Belarus

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