The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in partnership with the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (RBEC) and the Regional Center for Europe and Central Asia in Istanbul, organized the Regional Meeting on Environmental Justice from 13 to 15 December 2023 in Sarajevo, with the aim to identify effective and sustainable approaches to addressing environmental issues in the Western Balkans, and to encourage cooperation at the country and regional levels.
Acknowledging shared environmental challenges in the region, the meeting provided a platform for policymakers, practitioners, and environmental experts to exchange experiences and discuss steps to enhance environmental justice. Participants included key stakeholders such as representatives of environmental ministries, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, environmental inspectors, civil society organizations, and UNDP representatives from across the region.
In his opening remarks, Mirza Hujić, Assistant Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressed appreciation to UNDP for environmental protection activities in the country and emphasized the need for urgent collective action in addressing environmental challenges. He underlined that key is effective implementation of laws, investing in the training of judges and prosecutors, and holding everyone accountable for environmental violations.
Dino Serezlić, Head of the Justice and Security Sector at UNDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina, welcomed participants and highlighted the significance of joint efforts in addressing environmental challenges.
The global context was highlighted at the meeting, including the UN General Assembly Resolution recognizing the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right, and the Aarhus Convention as a key document that connects the environment and human rights. Global trends show an increase in court cases related to climate change, including the human rights litigation in the EU.
Seán O'Connell, UNDP's Global Contact for Environmental Justice, presented the first global report on the rule of law in the field of environment prepared by UNEP, which shows that despite a large number of environmental regulations, their implementation is weak, incomplete and ineffective. He also presented the UNDP's efforts to advance environmental justice, as well as examples that illustrate the impact of climate change on people, biodiversity. "It is a shocking fact that air pollution kills seven million people worldwide every year, as estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO). The current penalties for environmental damage are insufficient, considering the long-term consequences they leave behind. Environmental inspections do not have enough resources and capacity, and specialized training for dedicated units is also needed. Empowering the public about their rights and access to justice is vital to increase demands for eco-justice, especially among young people. NGOs also play a key role. The recently concluded COP28 climate conference initiated an increased dialogue on climate justice. UNDP’s approach includes strengthening legal frameworks, capacity, and awareness on environmental rights. Urgency dictates faster and greater action from all.“ concluded O'Connell and emphasized the need for a renewed focus on enforcement of environmental rights beyond the legislative level, including digital solutions to monitor violations of the law.
Thematic panels covered a wide range of interrelated topics in the field of environmental justice from different perspectives, such as the regulatory framework and alignment with the EU acquis.
Miroslav Angelov from the European Commission's Directorate-General for Environment spoke about the importance of harmonizing regulatory frameworks with the EU acquis, noting the proposal for the new EU Directive on environmental crime.
Alma Mirvić, Project Manager at UNDP in BiH, presented the "Strengthening the Rule of Law in the Environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Eco-Justice" project, launched at the beginning of 2023 with the support of the Netherlands. The goal of the project is to contribute to the harmonization of criminal and environmental legislation in BiH with the EU acquis, to strengthen the procedural framework for the detection, investigation and prosecution of environmental violations, develop a curriculum and training program for judicial civil servants and law students, and to improve the understanding and implementation of environmental human rights.
The meeting concluded with a dialogue of representatives of civil society from BiH and the countries of the region, during which case studies on violations of environmental human rights in BiH were presented, and the experiences of organizations on access to justice in administrative procedures were exchanged. Special emphasis was placed on the critical role of the judiciary, procedural cooperation between the environmental inspectorates, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, and of promoting a right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.