Salus populi suprema lex . Marcus Tullius Cicero

Environmental rights and duties of citizens
Tuesday, 13 September 2011 20:19

ecorights2Recognition of urgency of environmental problems and, consequently, the environmental rights of citizens occurred relatively recently, thus the recognition that realization of fundamental human rights, including the right to life is dependent on the environment came only in recent decades of the twentieth century.[1] At this time the basic international agreements on environmental protection were developed. And they began to recognize the basic environmental rights of citizens and the relationship between the ability to ensure the fundamental rights of citizens and the environmental protection (Stockholm Declaration (1972), the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in Transboundary Context (1991), the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992), the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), the Convention on Civil Liability for Damage Resulting from Activities Dangerous to the Environment (1993), Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice on Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) (1998), etc.).

With the adoption of international agreements in this area relevant principles of environmental protection and certain environmental rights were reflected in national legal systems.

Thus, article 50 of the Constitution of Ukraine (1996) envisages that everyone has the right to a safe and healthy environment and to the reimbursement of the violation of this right. Everyone is guaranteed the right of free access to information about the environment, the quality of food and consumer goods, as well as the right to disseminate such information. Such information cannot be made secret.

Law of Ukraine "On Environmental Protection" envisages environmental rights of citizens of Ukraine (Article 9). Each citizen of Ukraine has the right to:

- environment that is safe for the life and health;

- participate in discussing and making suggestions to the draft regulations, materials for the construction and reconstruction of facilities that may affect the environment, and to submit proposals to government and local governmental authorities involved in decisions making on these issues;

- participate in the development and implementation of measures for environmental protection, rational and comprehensive use of natural resources;

- effect general and special use of natural resources;

- associate in non-governmental environmental organizations;

- free access to information about the state of environment (environmental information) and free access, use, distribution and storage of information, except the restrictions established by law;

- participate in public hearings or public meetings on the impact of the proposed activity on the environment at the stages of the design, construction and reconstruction of facilities and in conducting public environmental expertise;

- environmental education;

- submit claims to the court against public bodies, enterprises, institutions, organizations and citizens for damages caused to their health and property due to negative impact on the environment;

- appeal court decisions, actions or inaction of state authorities, local governments and their officials for violations of environmental rights according to legal procedures envisaged by law.

This article also envisages that the legislation of Ukraine may define other environmental rights. Thus the list of environmental rights established by article 9 of this law is not exhaustive.

Environmental rights are divided into material and procedural. The important procedural rights, which provide the realization of substantive (material) rights, are the rights on access to environmental information, participation in decision-making process and access to justice on environmental matters. These rights are envisaged by national legislation of Ukraine and in international agreements, including the fundamental among them Aarhus Convention

The current legislation of Ukraine also establishes guarantees of environmental rights of citizens (Article 10 of the Law "On Environmental Protection"), such as the following:

- Introducing of large-scale state measures to maintain, restore and improve the environment;

- making it mandatory for the ministries, agencies, enterprises, institutions and organizations to carry out technical and other measures for the prevention of the adverse effects of economic and other activity on the environment, comply with ecological requirements during planning, distribution of production facilities, construction and operation of economic facilities;

- participation of non-governmental associations and citizens in activities pertaining to environmental protection;

- implementation of state and public control on compliance with the legislation on environmental protection;

- compensation under the prescribed procedure of the damage caused to health and property of citizens in consequence of violation of legislation on environmental protection;

- the inevitability of responsibility for violation of legislation on environmental protection;

- establishment and operation of the national environmental information and automatic analysis system providing access to environmental information.

Activity that interferes the enjoyment of the right of citizens to a safe environment and other environmental rights, shall be subject to suspension by procedure established under the present Law and other legislation of Ukraine.

According to article 11 of the Law of Ukraine "On Environmental Protection", Ukraine guarantees the implementation of environmental rights envisaged by law. Councils, specially authorized by state bodies in the field of environmental protection and natural resources are required to provide assistance to citizens in the implementation of environmental activities, consider their suggestions for improvement of environmental protection. Violated rights of citizens in environmental sphere should be restored, and protected by the court under the legislation of Ukraine.

Article 12 of the Law of Ukraine "On Environmental Protection" establishes duties of citizens in environmental protection. Namely, citizens of Ukraine shall:

- take care of nature, protect and rationally utilize its wealth in compliance with the requirements of the legislation on environmental protection;

- pursue activity in compliance with the requirements of ecological safety, other ecological standards and limits of use of natural resources;

- not to violate environmental rights and legitimate interests of other subjects;

- pay penalties for environmental offenses;

- compensate damage caused by pollution and other negative effects on the environment.

Citizens of Ukraine shall also be bound to fulfill other obligations in the field of environmental protection in conformity with the legislation of Ukraine.

strasbourgThe decisions of international courts play an important role in the development of the concept of environmental rights. They are often the impetus for and implementation of environmental law and environmental rights on the national level. In this sense the decisions of the European Court on Human Rights are very progressive. It is known that the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) does not contain environmental rights. But the European Court recognizes in its decisions that environmental pollution causes the violation of basic human rights like right to life, to respect for private and family life. Similarly, the right on access to environmental information is associated with the right to freedom of expression (Article 10 of the European Convention), which includes freedom to receive information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of boundaries. So, consequently, violations of right on access to environmental information, as well as other environmental rights, lead to violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is binding in Ukraine, being ratified in 1997.


Prepared by M.Bulgakova,

Director of EACLA.

[1] Kravchenko S.M., Andrusevych A.O, Bonine J. Problems of International Law on Environmental Protection. Lviv, 2002.