Point of View

Aarhus Convention Implementation in Armenia – Failure or Progress?

20.07.2011

A number of NGOs are concerned that the Government of the Republic of Armenia failed to implement the requirements of the Aarhus Convention but Aida Iskoyan, the National Coordinator of the Convention, argues they have progress.

Recently 28 NGOs have disseminated a statement entitled "The Aarhus Convention in Armenia: Failed Reality" and stated that the Armenian Government "has basically failed to implement the Convention requirements."

"It is better to light one candle than to curse the dark," this is how Aida Iskoyan, the Armenian Coordinator of the Aarhus Convention, replied to the critics adding that though there are many problems and things to do, "we are moving forward."

"One should not ignore the positive changes. The picture now and ten years ago is absolutely different. The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee proposed to warn Ukraine and Kazakhstan for not accomplishing certain provisions of the Convention, and it was approved by the conference of the Aarhus Convention participants. Whereas Armenia has no warning until now; moreover, the national report on accomplishing provisions of the Convention presented by Armenia has been evaluated positively - equal to those of Western European countries," says The Aarhus Convention Armenia Coordinator. "As for the fact that NGOs made a statement and complained, it is very good. It means that NGOs are aware of the Aarhus Convention provisions and know how to put a question and protect themselves".

Aarhus Convention in Armenia: 10 Years Later

The Republic of Armenia signed the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) in 1998 and ratified it in 2001. The statement disseminated by NGOs was also presented to participants of the Convention member states meeting held in Chisinau on June 29-July 1, 2011. The Head of Transparency International Anticorruption Center Sona Aivazyan stated at the meeting that Armenian NGOs do not agree with the definition that Armenia has made progress in implementation of the previous decision.

"Not only there was no progress, but not a single step was taken to implement the previous decision", Sona Aivazyan says. She insists that "much more could have been done".     

In Aida Iskoyan's opinion, the Convention has to be assessed in the context of economic and social development of the country taking into consideration the fact that Armenia is in the transition period. She believes also that the term "failure" is incorrect. "One can say that the party "has not met the standards" or "has met them partially", but the term "failure" is not appropriate".     

Among the failures in the implementation of the Convention's requirements NGOs have also mentioned that "no necessary steps were taken to ensure the adequate implementation of the Convention's provisions on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice".

The Aarhus Convention National Coordinator agrees with NGOs that regarding access to justice the situation is not satisfactory yet. The Convention refers to the national legislation, however, legal mechanisms and procedures are not clearly defined by our laws. Therefore, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee has set a task before Armenia to have appropriate law by April 1, 2012.

Iskoyan's reply to the question "What prevented from doing those changes in 10 years?" is quite general: "There are legislative changes but the question is in the framework and contents of the process, and certainly legal practice also affects the process".

In Iskoyan's words, Armenia is the only country in CIS that has an Ecological scientific and educational center at the Yerevan State University. It is also the only country in the region where Ecological Law, European Ecological Law and Provisions of Aarhus Convention are taught. Iskoyan considers important that the center cooperates with the National Assembly.

"The National Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture and Environment always invites our specialists to the discussion of projects and sends us projects and draft packages to get experts' opinion", she says. 

In Aida Iskoyan's opinion, the situation is relatively good in Armenia regarding access to information though sometimes there are unfounded denials to provide information. It is more acceptable for her that the authorized body collects and publishes the information open for the society in its sites or some other way as stipulated in article 5 of the Aarhus Convention.

NGOs also complain about the process of organizing public hearings. "The information about public hearings is posted in sites several days before the event, the discussed materials are not posted in the Aarhus center site. So actually holding hearings within such tight time limits is simple imitation", Sona Aivazyan says.

Establishing Aarhus centers is not mandatory by the Convention, however 15 such centers have been opened in Armenia.

"It's a very impressive figure, and true, these centers can stimulate implementation of the Convention provisions, but very little has been done. The fact that there are 15 centers in Armenia does not mean that the RA Government implements the Convention", Sona Aivazyan states.      

She says in very few cases NGOs succeed in changing something since the decisions are already made. "There have been cases when we struggled, and the decision has been changed due to actions, campaigns, but the Convention does not say that NGOs have to turn to extreme measures to change decisions".

Non-governmental organizations mention in their statement that the overwhelming majority of obligations undertaken by the Convention have been implemented not by the state but by non-governmental structures with the assistance and/or initiative of international organizations.

"What's wrong with NGOs doing some things? What are NGOs for? To see a wrong decision, a mistake and raise alarm, put pressure, to support implementation of law. They struggled and Gilan again became a preserve. The state takes into account the opinion of NGOs. It is a positive thing that NGOs are so active. The more active they are, the more vigilant the state and authorized bodies will be", Iskoyan says adding that NGOs have to both support public bodies and play the role of watchdog to make decision makers follow the implementation of requirements of the law.

Aida Iskoyan believes that the amendment of the Law on Expertise of Environmental Impact is   at present the ultimate priority for Armenia within the framework of the Aarhus Convention and she calls for other NGOs, besides criticizing them, also come up with proposals and present them to improve the law.

Mary Alexanyan

Source - www.hra.am