Statement of Over 240 Organizations Demanding Annulling Bill on Restricting Provision of Environmental Information Sent to Armenian Government

Statement of Over 240 Organizations Demanding Annulling Bill on Restricting Provision of Environmental Information Sent to Armenian Government

EcoLur

Over 240 organizations have joined the statement calling for the immediate repeal of the draft law on making supplements to RA Law on Freedom of Information. The bill was approved by the Armenian government at the sitting of the executive held on April 2.

Shushan Doydoyan, President of Freedom of Information Center NGO, sent a statement to the Government of the Republic of Armenia and RA Environment Ministry.

The announcement says: "On April 2, the Government of the Republic of Armenia adopted a draft law on making supplements to RA Law on Freedom of Information, which was submitted to RA National Assembly. According to the draft, "The provision of information on the environment may be denied if it may adversely affect the environment, including the breeding sites of rare species."

From the very first day of the project's circulation, the civil society has been raising issues related to this initiative, calling on the author of the project to refrain from this provision laying down confidentiality.

In particular:

The proposed initiative contradicts the Aarhus Convention. In the project substantiation, the authors refer to the Convention, make a citation from the Convention, with incorrect translation and selectively (Article 4, paragraph 4(h). The Convention deals exclusively with the possible limitation of information relating to the breeding sites of rare species. Meanwhile, the wording of the draft shows that any information related to the environment can be limited in a discretionary manner.

• Based on the grounds of this restriction it turns out that journalists, civil society, may be denied access to any information related to the environment that this department thinks to have a negative impact.

• The draft was developed without the representatives of the civil society in this field, as well as no proper public discussion has been organized.

• This amendment violates the principle of transparency adopted by the government, on the one hand, and restricts access to environmental information and public control, on the other hand.

Based on the above, we demand the immediate repeal of the draft, as it does not comply with the requirements of domestic legislation and international obligations governing the freedom of information.

 

1.  EaP CSF Armenian National Platform (unites more than 230 CSOs)

2. INFORMATION FREEDOM CENTER NGO

3. ECO-MEDIA NETWORK

4. AWARE AND PROTECTED CONSUMER

5. ASSOCIATION OF YOUNG JOURNALISTS

6. "ARMENIAN CAMP" NGO

7. "ALT" TELEVISION

8. "MAQUR GORIS" ENVIRONMENTAL NGO

9. "INITIATIVE 20"

10. "YOUTH IDEAS" NGO

11.  FOUNDATION FOR INITIATIVE OF RIGHT PROTECTION

 

The reference says: Draft Law "On Making Amendments to Law on Freedom of Information" restricts access to public information and rights to the decision-making process on environment-related matters. From the very first day of its circulation of the draft law, the civil society has been raising the problems in regard to this draft law by calling the project author, Environment Ministry, to refrain from this provision defining confidentiality. RA Human Rights Defender also issued a negative opinion on this draft law on April 3"  (see), whereas Journalists without Borders International Irganization announced on April 2 that this draft law violates the publicity principle of the Armenian government.  (see)

On April 6, the EaP CSF Armenian National Platform, which unites over 230 Armenian CSOs, as well as about a dozen other public organizations issued a statement to RA Government demanding the immediate repeal of the draft law on making supplements to RA Law on Freedom of Information and not submitting it to the National Assembly for further discussions, as it does not correspond the requirements of the domestic legislation and international obligations regulating the freedom of information.

Our demands are based on the following arguments.

1. According to the Aarhus Convention, information provision may be rejected only by the public authority (see Article 2 of the Convention, Definitions, Clause 2), in the case when the draft law these authorities include “all the managers of information included in Article 3(4) of RA Law on Freedom of Information, i.e. local government bodies and organizations of public significance add to the list, which are not included in the list of the public authorities laid down in the convention. So it turns out that the private companies of public significance and local government bodies will have an opportunity to reject the inquiries on the environmental information.

2.The substantiation of the draft law lays down Clause 4, which is isolated from the context of the convention, “A request for environmental information may be refused if the disclosure would adversely affect the environment to which the information relates, such as the breeding sites of rare species.” It should be mentioned that whole Article 4 lays down specific grounds for the refusal of providing information and not general grounds, as the draft authors interpret it.

3. It should be noted that the information in question is already available: they are published in the Red Book, which is also available on the Internet. For example, you can find the whereabouts of rare species breeding sites here. It turns out this regulation is extra and anachronistic.

4. At the same time, without proper public discussion presenting the draft law to the Government of the Republic of Armenia, RA Environment Ministry violated the provision  in Article 8 of the Convention. “PUBLIC PARTICIPATION DURING THE PREPARATION OF EXECUTIVE REGULATIONS AND/OR GENERALLY APPLICABLE LEGALLY BINDING NORMATIVE INSTRUMENTS: Each Party shall strive to promote effective public participation at an appropriate stage, and while options are still open, during the preparation by public authorities of executive regulations and other generally applicable legally binding rules that may have a significant effect on the environment.”

5. The proposed draft also contradicts other legal acts of the Republic of Armenia, in particular, RA Law “On Environmental Impact Assessment and Expertise” envisages a demand to conduct an examination of the intended impact on the biodiversity as well as a special demand for public hearings. 

For the full public participation in public hearings, information is needed on whether there are rare and endangered species in the area or not? In addition, Article 26 of RA Code on Subsoil directly prohibits the operation of the mine in an open manner in the area where there are red-listed species. Therefore, if the envisaged amendment is accepted, it will contradict other legal norms. Therefore, given the abovementioned, we once again demand an immediate repeal of this draft law.”

15:58 April 08, 2020


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