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Lawyers Say Asian Courts Are Not Enforcing Environmental Laws


A number of developing countries in Asia have in recent years adopted strict laws to protect the environment. But lawyers gathering this week for a U.N. environment conference in Bangkok, say many courts fail to enforce environmental laws. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from the Thai capital.

The lawyers dedicated to environmental law say corruption and a lack of political will sway the decisions of many courts and prevent governments from applying penalties to polluters.

The lawyers spoke on the sidelines of the U.N. Environment Program's conference on environmental justice and enforcement in Bangkok.

M.C. Mehta, an attorney who has argued several landmark environmental cases in India's Supreme Court, is among the lawyers, judges, and officials from more than 40 countries attending the conference. He says India and other countries have put environmental laws on the books, but that is not enough.

"It is a question of accountability. The principle of accountability can be established when we in India have the laws. The environmental laws are there. But the enforcement is not there. If it remains in the constitution of India only, it is not going to help," Mehta said.

Dozens of other countries in Asia have similar problems. For instance, in China, the government has imposed tough new rules and restrictions on building new coal-fired power plants, but environmental experts say the rules are widely ignored.

In other countries, environmentalists say that penalties for polluting and other harmful activities are too low. They say, for instance, that illegal loggers in much of Southeast Asia will simply pay the fine and keep on cutting trees.

Mehta pushed an Indian Supreme Court decision to make environmental education compulsory in schools. He says he believes that instilling fundamental environmental awareness at the grassroots will lead to greater accountability by the authorities.

"If a child becomes aware, conscious, yes they can, the children, the youth, the women, the ones who are the real stakeholders, who are feeling every day the brunt of environmental pollution, they will force the authorities to do things," Mehta said.

Organizers say the three-day conference aims to raise awareness among judges in the region to improve their understanding of the judiciary's role in protecting the environment.

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