Environmental NGOs Welcome Aarhus Convention Amendment Giving Public Right to Participate in Decisions on GMO-Related Activities

May 31, 2005

Almaty , Kazakhstan , May 2005

Civil society organizations, gathered at the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention in Almaty, today welcomed an amendment to the Convention giving the public the right to participate on decisions on GMO-related activities.

The GMO amendment comes after four years of intense and polarised debate, with the EU and the biotech industry on one side, and civil society and the majority of EECCA countries on the other. Significant compromises were eventually made by both sides. Although civil society regrets that the final amendment does not give the public the right to access to justice on GMO decisions which they had fought for, Juan Lopez, International Coordinator of Friends of the Earth Programme on Genetic Engineering, said "This is the first time that a pan-European obligation will provide the public with effective information and participation on decisions to authorize a GMO release for export and for commercial purposes." ECO Forum is now calling for Parties to ratify the amendment by the end of 2006.

Civil society also saluted the decision by the Meeting of the Parties to promote public participation in international forums. This decision means that member States, including the European Community, have committed themselves to making greater efforts to support involvement in decision-making by international institutions like the World Trade Organisation.

The Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, is the first international treaty on human rights and the environment and is widely regarded as a landmark. It currently has been ratified by 35 countries from Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia as well as the European Community.

As is fitting for a Convention based on the public's right to participate, the Meeting of the Parties held this week in Almaty, was attended by a large number of civil society groups, particularly environmental NGOs and NGOs from the countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia . Civil society's involvement in the Meeting was coordinated by the European EcoForum.

The Meeting was the Parties' first opportunity to assess the implementation of, and compliance with, the Convention since it entered into force in October 2001. The Convention's Compliance Committee reported on the findings and recommendations in its first five cases, which included findings of non-compliance against Turkmenistan , Ukraine and Kazakhstan .

The Meeting also reviewed the first set of national reports presented by the Parties on their implementation of the Convention in practice. A small number of countries failed to fulfil their obligation to present a report. Those received showed that more needed to be done to achieve public participation and particularly access to justice across the whole region. During the high level segment of the meeting, John Hontelez, Chair of ECO Forum, said that "public participation and access to justice are the biggest bottlenecks.This is not only a matter of legal transposition. Public authorities need to invest in environmental democracy. Invest not only in terms of money, in the setting up and strengthening of specific services and capacities, but. also in the awareness and training of officials working at all levels and sectors of government, as well as the judges in the courts".

For further information, please contact
Mara Silina at mara.silina@eeb.org , mobile 0032 472 505031 (until 28 May) and 0032 228 91305 (after 28 May)

European Environmental Bureau Federation of Environmental Citizens Organisations
Item source: http:///www.eeb.org/press/civi l_society_c elebrates_victory_almaty_0505.htm Previous Item Back to Titles Print Item Selection and Arrangement Copyright © 2005 Public Info Net Ltd.

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