The Victims of Environmental Crime

The Constitutional Framework adopted in 2001 by UNMIK under the Security Council mandate of Resolution 1244/99[1] did not foresee a right for information related to the environment. The new Constitution adopted in 2008 introduced a right of information and a duty of responsibility towards the environment in its Article 52 on the Responsibility for the Environment. It states that

  • 1. Nature and biodiversity, the environment, and national inheritance are everyone’s responsibility.
  • 2. Everyone should have an opportunity to be heard by public institutions and have their opinions considered on issues that impact the environment in which they live.
  • 3. The impact on the environment shall be considered by public institutions in their decision-making processes.

Paragraph 2 of Article 52 gives constitutional status to the basic general right of information, which is one of the rights envisaged by the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decisionmaking, and access to justice in environmental matters. Kosovo has not acceded yet to this convention but has incorporated in its legislation the basic principles of the EU Directive that transposes the convention into EU law.

The basic principles of the EU Directive ‘on public access to environmental information’ informed the first Law on Environmental Protection of 2003 and specifically were incorporated in the Law on Environmental Protection adopted in 2009. Ever since then, the EU and its member states have promoted public participation and the empowerment of NGOs and citizens to protect the environment in the Balkans.

For example, in 2006 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands financed a regional project on ‘Improving Public Participation: Next Steps in Implementing Aarhus Convention in Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo’, which funded academic research such as Morina’s (2006) report on the ‘Transposition of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters with the legislation of Kosovo’. In 2013, the European Commission’s General Direction on Enlargement organized a workshop in Pristina to showcase EU implementation of the Environmental Information Directive and the Aarhus Convention.1

People of all ethnicities suffered the environmental damage caused by the war: the poisoning of wells, the destruction of historical sites, mainly churches and monasteries, and the committing of war crimes have had persistent and long-term effects. Refugees and internally displaced persons have not returned to their homes, and others now occupy the houses and the lands they left behind. Even the UN intervention brought about unexpected and terrible effects; Roma, Askhali, and Egyptian communities were relocated near the Trepca mine where the disposal of hazardous waste in dumpsites has resulted in lead poisoning, seriously affecting the most vulnerable, often the children. These communities so far have not sought compensation or demanded justice from the UN forces that turned a temporary location of 45 days into a permanent home. Their stories have been reported by the European Roma Rights Centre (2005). However, in the area of Mitrovica many others are also affected by this lead poisoning as has been demonstrated in recent reports (Musliu et al. 2008).

Nature is also a voiceless victim. From a legal point of view, the concept of victim is conceived restrictively and limited primarily to people exposed to a criminal act as defined by law, while a non-legal definition is broader, including animals and the environment that [2]

have been exposed to harm whether or not by a crime considered illegal. In Kosovo, the environment has been harmed by combatant forces, international intervention, criminals looting resources, and citizens struggling to survive. In this context, the EU has so far played a limited role in protecting the victims of environmental crime. As in other areas of the Balkans, the EU has tried to fund the required infrastructures that can empower civil society. However, this monumental task has started with victims of genocide and war crimes. Raising environmental awareness was not and is not on the top of the agenda of international administration agencies. Nonetheless, special training has been facilitated through EU programs that have financed networks that have temporarily benefitted the population. However, this aid has had only a limited impact up till now. In the Balkans, the EU has funded one of the most important environmental NGOs, the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe, in which Kosovo has participated. It has carried out remarkable work promoting public awareness on environmental problems and on the access to justice under the Aarhus Convention.[3] It succeeded in providing cooperation tools and training on environmental legislation, but unfortunately, this came to an end when EU support was cut off.

Other international organizations have also tried to promote the protection of environmental victims in Kosovo since the end of the war. In 2001, the United Nations and OSCE prepared an introductory manual on victims of crimes that also targeted environmental harm and environmental victims. Even though the manual is dedicated to human victims, it mentions, albeit briefly, environmental victims. Among its principles on restitution it states that ‘in cases of substantial harm to the environment, restitution, if ordered, should include, as far as possible, restoration of the environment, reconstruction of the infrastructure, replacements of community facilities and reimbursement of the expenses of relocation, whenever such harm results in the dislocation of a community’ (OSCE 2001, pp. 36-37). However, this principle has not been fulfilled by the very organizations that created the manual, the UN’s controversial management of the relocation of internally displaced ethnic groups to dumpsites being a case in point.

  • [1] The Constitutional Framework introduced a Chapter 5 on Responsibilities of the ProvisionalInstitutions of Self-Government that envisaged in its sect. 5.1 that Provisional Institutions of SelfGovernment shall have responsibilities regarding (i) Environmental Protection. See ConstitutionalFramework for the Provisional Self-Government of Kosovo, available at http://www.assembly-kosova.org/common/docs/FrameworkPocket_ENG_Dec2002.pdf.
  • [2] See the TAIEX Workshop on the Implementation of the Environmental Information Directiveand the Aarhus Convention, available at http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/taiex/dyn/taiex-events/library/detail_en.jsp?EventID=50080.
  • [3] REC was established in 1990 by the United States, the European Commission, and Hungary.Today, REC is legally based on a charter signed by the governments of 28 countries and theEuropean Commission, and on an international agreement with the government of Hungary. Itdefines itself as ‘a nonpartisan, non-advocacy, not-for-profit international organisation with amission to assist in solving environmental problems in Central and Eastern Europe. REC fulfilsthis mission by promoting cooperation among non-governmental organisations, governments,businesses and other environmental stakeholders, and by supporting the free exchange of information and public participation in environmental decision making’. See REC Mission Statement inits new website available at http://www.rec.org/. REC has an office in Kosovo with the goal of‘empowering citizenship to and support environmentally mainstreamed policy making’. ‘Theoffice was established to assist in the development and strengthening of environmental civilsociety; to support the development and enforcement of appropriate environmental policies;and to ensure that environmental issues are taken into consideration during the process oftransition’. The REC office in Kosovo focuses its activities in three main areas: providing supportto institutions for efficient environmental management; providing information/education for civilsociety; development of sustainable communities. See REC Kosovo Office presentation availableat http://www.rec.org/office.php?id=9.
 
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