By Restricting Environmental Information We Restrict Participation of Civil Society in Decision Making Process

By Restricting Environmental Information We Restrict Participation of Civil Society in Decision Making Process


EcoLur is presenting the feedback of the mass media around the draft law on restricting environmental information, Grisha Balasanyan

Journalists Without Borders has twitted on the draft law restricting the provision of environmental information in Armenia, noting that the government's restriction of environmental information violates the principle of transparency adopted by the authorities.

Inga Zarafyan, President of EcoLur Informational NGO, told the Hetq that a number of NGOs have already expressed their concerns about the project and she believes this legislative proposal should be withdrawn from circulation as soon as possible.

Inga Zarafyan noted though the author of the draft relied on the relevant provision of Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), but approached the issue selectively, which doesn't comply with the goals of the convention and is not justified. In her opinion, the main goal of the convention is the full participation of the civil society in the discussion of environmental issues and decision-making.

According to Inga Zarafyan, in order to make amendments to Law on Freedom of Information, a public discussion should be held, especially when non-governmental organizations have initially given a negative assessment of the project.

"They tried to have the draft adopted, where they succeeded, given the harsh state of the coronavirus in the country. But I want to say that they will not succeed until the end, because we already have the response of international organizations. Besides, the citizens who are concerned about the environmental situation and the current policy are against the adoption of this project, and a written statement will be sent both to the National Assembly and the government in the near future," Inga Zarafyan said.

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On April 2, at the regular sitting, RA Government tacitly adopted a decision, around which a great fuss has already been raised in professional circles. We are talking about the draft amendment to RA Law on Freedom of Information, by which Environment Ministry proposes to limit the provision of information related to the sphere.

According to Shushan Doydoyan, the bill gives a wide opportunity to the officials of Environment Ministry to refuse to provide any information they do not want.

In support of the draft law, the Ministry referred to Article 4 of Aarhus Convention. However, Head of Freedom of Information Center claims that the real meaning of the provision has been distorted by the translation error of the mentioned provision in the Convention.

"If we compare the Armenian and English texts, it becomes clear that the convention allows us to limit only the information on the places of reproduction of rare species, and not any other information that can negatively affect the environment," she said.

In her interview with Sputnik Armenia, Inga Zarafyan, President of Ecolur NGO, expressed an opinion that the law was written solely to create a legal basis for the ministry's illegal activities.

"They are constantly refusing to provide us with the information we need. The information is not published on the official website of the ministry. With this, they are trying to give a "legal" substantiation to their working style. For years, the Ministry of Nature Protection has made that experiment during the time of old, new, different ministers," Zarafyan said. For its part, Environment Ministry of issued a statement saying that the point of the above-mentioned article of the Aarhus Convention was literally translated and submitted in the draft.

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On April 2, the government approved a proposed amendment to RA Law on Freedom of Information, which gives Environment Ministry the right to refuse to provide information that could negatively affect the environment, including rare species breeding sites. This fact has caused dissatisfaction among the civil society and journalistic organizations. Shushan Doydoyan, Head of Freedom of Information Center, told that the draft law does not provide clear criteria for refusing to provide information.

According to Geographer Levon Galstyan, the biggest risk of the draft law is to take control tools from environmental organizations. "Environmental organizations will not be able to find out, for example, whether there are red-listed individuals in the area where the company that produces the mine or is going to build a hydroelectric power plant is going to carry out economic activities," Levon Galstyan expressed his concern.

The reference to the Aarhus Convention in this draft law, however, according to environmentalist Inga Zarafyan, does not correspond to the goals of the convention. In particular, the Aarhus Convention also protects the participation of civil society in the decision-making process, which should be facilitated by the provision of information.

According to Zarafyan, Environment Ministry restricts the participation of civil society in any way, as she said, their participation in public hearings is limited, and their rights have been violated. "It would be much better if the ministry paid attention to how rare species should be preserved, tightened the regime of specially protected areas. Or, for example, it would cancel the government's decision on Amulsar, when the ministry gave a positive conclusion in the case that a red-listed species was found in the area of ​​the mine. Leaving that aside, they try to make illegal restrictions legal.”

In his interview with, Environment Minister Erik Grigoryan, responding to the concerns voiced by the civil society, says that this project solves a very simple problem. "According to today's Armenian legislation, if a citizen sends a request to the ministry and wants, for example, to know the places where the Bezoar goats are most located or the specific habitats of the Caucasian leopard, etc., we must provide that information." The meaning of this amendment to the law is that in case of harm to flora and fauna, it would be possible not to provide that information.”

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April 04, 2020 at 14:48