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      Judges Fortify Environmental Law Principles

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      Yahoo! News   Wednesday, August 28, 2002
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      Judges Fortify Environmental Law Principles
      Wed Aug 28, 6:39 AM ET

      ENS Correspondents,Environment News Service

      JOHANNESBURG, August 27, 2002 (ENS) - An action plan to strengthen the development, use and enforcement of environmentally related laws has been drawn up by over 100 of the world's most senior judges at the World Summit for Sustainable Development.

      Environment News Service
      Environmental Justice Foundation
      OneWorld on Environment
      Centre for Science and Environment

      The move signals a new era featuring improved capacity of judges, prosecutors, and legislators as well as greater public participation in environmental decision-making.

      The Johannesburg Principles on the Role of Law and Sustainable Development, drafted last week by the Global Judges Symposium, were kept confidential until Tuesday so they could be delivered first to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan ( news - web sites), according to the United Nations ( news - web sites) Environment Programme, which organized the symposium.

      "Our declaration and proposed program of work are, I believe, a crucial development in the quest to deliver development that respects people and that respects the planet for current and future generations and for all living things," said Justice Arthur Chaskalson, Chief Justice of South Africa, who co-hosted the symposium.

      Participating judges included Judge J. Clifford Wallace, a senior judge of the United States Court of Appeals ( news - web sites) for the Ninth Circuit; Justice Charles Gonthier, Supreme Court of Canada; three justices from the Supreme Court of China; and the chief justices of India, of Indonesia, Colombia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Romania, and of Russia among dozens of other distinguished jurists.

      The justices recognized that the poor people and the poor nations of the world suffer most from environmental degradation, and they placed a greater responsibility on the most powerful nations of the world to protect the global environment.

      "There is an urgent need," the justices declared, "to strengthen the capacity of the poor and their representatives to defend environmental rights, so as to ensure that the weaker sections of society are not prejudiced by environmental degradation and are enabled to enjoy their right to live in a social and physical environment that respects and promotes their dignity."

      The justices affirmed their "commitment" to the pledge made by world leaders in the Millennium Declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2000 "to spare no effort to free all of humanity, and above all our children and grandchildren, from the threat of living on a planet irredeemably spoilt by human activities, and whose resources would no longer be sufficient for their needs."

      They expressed their "firm conviction" that the framework of international and national law that has evolved since the United Nations Conference on Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972, the forerunner of the current summit, provides "a sound basis for addressing the major environmental threats of the day, including armed conflict and attacks on innocent civilians."

      "We recall the principles adopted in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and affirm adherence to these principles which lay down the basic principles of sustainable development," the justices declared.

      They affirmed the importance of an independent judiciary and judicial process, and emphasized the importance of the peaceful resolution of conflicts "to avoid situations in which weapons of war degrade the environment and cause irreparable harm directly through toxic agents, radiation, landmines and physical destruction and indirectly destroy agriculture and create vast displacement of people."

      UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer called the field of law "the poor relation in the worldwide 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," Toepfer said. "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."

      The justices are convinced that deficiency in the knowledge, relevant skills and information in regard to environmental law is "one of the principal causes that contribute to the lack of effective implementation, development and enforcement of environmental law." The goal of their plan of action is to address these deficiencies.

      The action plan aims to equip judges, prosecutors, legislators and others, with the necessary skills, information and materials, through the strengthening of environmental law education in schools and universities, including research and analysis as essential to realizing sustainable development, the justices said.

      There must be improvement in the level of public participation in environmental decision-making, the justices said, as well as access to justice for the settlement of environmental disputes and the defense and enforcement of environmental rights, and public access to relevant information.

      Strengthening of collaboration and exchange of information on sub-regional, regional and global levels should take place, the justices said, and called for strengthening of the capacity of organizations and initiatives, including the media, to enable a well informed public to participate more in making and enforcing environmental laws.

      There should be an Ad Hoc Committee of Judges consisting of judges representing geographical regions, legal systems and international courts and tribunals and headed by the Chief Justice of South Africa, that will keep under review and publicize the emerging environmental jurisprudence, the justices recommended.

      UNEP and its partner agencies, including civil society organizations, should provide support to the Ad Hoc Committee of Judges, and finally, the justices called upon governments of the developed countries, the donor community, and international financial institutions, to finance the implementation of these principles and the program of work on a high priority basis.

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