The second plenary session of the the V International Conference “Human rights protection in Eurasia: exchange of best practices of ombudspersons” was devoted to the observance of environmental rights. According to the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, the rapid growth of population and the increase in production and consumption have had a detrimental effect on the environment. Environmental problems have now acquired a transnational and global scale.
Major restructuring of Russian industry and energy sector in the last two decades has led to positive results. In particular, greenhouse emissions are half of what they were 20 years ago. Sociological surveys demonstrate that the Russian society agrees that the environmental situation has improved.
High Commissioner receives around 300 complaints regarding environmental rights every year. Over the past five years, hundreds of thousands of people’s issues in this regard have been resolved – on the High Commissioner’s initiative, such harmful events as construction of a landfill at Shies station in Arkhangelsk Oblast and in the city of Aleksandrov in Vladimir Oblast and industrial works at Kushtau Mountain in the Republic of Bashkortostan were stopped, a cement producing enterprise in Lipetsk Oblast was closed.
However, many issues remain relevant. Some of those are: violations of sanitary and epidemiological requirements by industrial enterprises, increased air pollution in industrial regions, formation of unauthorized landfills and insufficient recycling of waste for future reuse.
To address these issues efficiently, the High Commissioner proposes to establish monitoring groups to protect environmental rights within the framework of integration associations of ombudsmen (Eurasian Ombudsman Alliance, GANHRI).
Verena Taylor, Director of the Office of the Directorate General for Programs of the Council of Europe, suggested creating training courses for human rights defenders. The Commissioner supported this idea, noting that the Human Rights Research and Education Center of the Moscow State Law Academy is already functioning successfully in Russia, and its competence includes consideration of urgent issues of environmental rights protection.
Ombudsmen from various countries shared their views and experiences with tackling human rights issues related to the degradation of environment. Erinda Ballanca, People's Advocate (Ombudsman) of Albania, noted: “We have a great responsibility to ensure that present and future generations live in a healthy environment. Ecology is not only the concern of a particular state, but of all other countries and of every individual”. Joseph Siegel, Secretary General of the European Ombudsman Institute, expressed the view that all of Eurasia must cooperate to address environmental issues and those national human rights institutions should have more powers and authority to successfully overcome these challenges.