Network of euroean enviroment law organization claims: Croatia violates Aarhus Convention

Representatives of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Physical Planning and Construction confirmed last Friday that they are refusing to withdraw the disciplinary process against Green Action/Friends of the Earth Croatia while Croatian Government so far remains silent about the whole case

Therefore it seems that Green Action will have to face Ministry accusations at court whose verdict could, in the worst case, threaten the NGO with the fine of 800 000 hrk (or approximatelly 110 000 euros). Numerous Croatian and foreign NGOs are giving their public support to the Green Action. Justice and Environment (Network of European environmental law organizations) also expressed their support to Green Action and stated that such exercise of rights from the Croatian state authorities represents violation of the Aarhus Convention, ratified by Croatia in 2007, and makes possible opening of the procedure against Croatia in front of the international bodies.

On the initiative of the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs Green Action and the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Physical Planning and Construction representatives met on the 2nd October 2009. Green Action representatives repeated their requests for withdrawal of the Ministry¹s claim and for sanctioning of the persons responsibile for such intentional pressure on an NGO. On the other side Ministry representatives stated that they are not ready to give up on the further disciplinary process. In the last 10 days Green Action received support from numerous NGOs and initiatives of the civil society among which we would like to single out Green Forum (network of 42 NGOs and initiatives working on environment protection in Croatia), GONG, Centre for Peace Studies, Women's Human Rights Group - B.a.B.e., Croatian Youth Network, Volunteers' Centre Zagreb and independent student initiative for free education in Croatia.

International organizations, such as Friends of the Earth International (world largest network of environmental NGOs) through the Friends of the Earth Europe, European Greens (network of European Green parties) and Heinrich Boell Fundation have sent protest letters to the Croatian Government and to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Physical Planning and Construction but also to the European Commision officails.

We would like to draw attention to the letter of support of the Network of European environmental law organizations «Justice and Environment» (J&E) where it was stated that such procedure represents violation of the Aarhus Convention (UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters), ratified by the Republic of Croatia in 2007. According to the Aarhus Convention non-governmental organizations play an extremely important role in environmental decision-making by calling the attention of the public but also public authorities to environmental problems. As such, these organizations are under the protection of the Aarhus Convention and its enforcement mechanism according to the Article 3 Paragraph 8 of the Convention.

According to the environmental lawyers from the J&E, when environmental NGOs make direct actions in order to draw attention to problems in the field of environment, NGOs are simply exercising their rights in conformity with the provisions of this Convention.

Such actions and activities can have different forms but are all dedicated to the same goal that is to improve environment protection and ensure more efficient decision-making. If the NGOs after such actions are later penalized, persecuted or harassed in any way, this conduct of the state administration could be a clear breach of human rights and a non-compliance with the Aarhus Convention. Members of the J&E regard that such conduct of the Ministry, apart from being a wrongful act, may also give rise to a non-compliance procedure before the Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention (UNECE, Geneva) or to a complaint procedure at the European Court of Human Rights (COE, Strasbourg) against the Republic of Croatia.

Contact person:
Tomislav Tomašević, president of the Green Action, +385 98 719 253

07.10.09. 13:47