News / Asia

China's Environmentalists Face Steep Challenges

People line up to buy cartons of bottled water at a supermarket after reports on heavy levels of benzene in local tap water, in Lanzhou, Gansu province, April 11, 2014.
People line up to buy cartons of bottled water at a supermarket after reports on heavy levels of benzene in local tap water, in Lanzhou, Gansu province, April 11, 2014.
In China, there is increasing public interest in environmental protections, but few legal avenues to go after and punish polluters. In the western city Lanzhou, a group of citizens has tried to file a lawsuit after a chemical leak contaminated their water source.

The government of Lanzhou, the capital of China's Western province of Gansu, told residents last week that a major tap water source had been contaminated with Benzene, a cancer causing chemical.

The contamination was caused by an oil leak from a buried pipeline. According to the government, the problem affected 2.4 million people.

Local officials said the problem was resolved by Sunday, but admitted their failure to supervise the city's water supplier, Sino-French firm Lanzhou Veolia Water Co.

But when citizens this week tried to sue the company for compensation, a local court swiftly rejected the case on the grounds that as individuals, the residents do not have the right to sue for infringements on public interest.

Cao Mingde, a legal scholar at China University of Political Science and Law, who specializes on environmental legislation, says that the court's rebuttal is in fact correct.

“Citizens suing for environmental damage do not qualify as litigants because the Civil Procedure Law states that only agencies and organizations that are stipulated by the law are allowed to file pollution-related lawsuits on behalf of public interest,” he said.

Pleading for accountability

In recent years, environmental organizations in China have been pushing for ways to hold the government and companies more accountable when their actions cause harm to the public.

They say that increasing the scope of public interest lawsuits is one important step.

It would widen public participation, they say, instead of relying only on the government and government-sanctioned groups who in court might represent their own interests over the public good.

Details about such lawsuits are included in a revision of the environmental protection law expected to be adopted later this year.

Specifics of the draft, the fourth so far, are still being debated.

While scholars in China say the draft will succeed in prioritizing the environment above development, it remains unclear how it will tackle public interest lawsuits.

“Even if this amendment to the law is adopted, individuals will still not be qualified to represent public interest to file lawsuits,” said Cao Mingde, who has been involved in drafting the latest amendment.
 
Easing requirements for claims

A less controversial step could be to lower the requirements for independent groups to bring such cases to justice.

In the last public version of the amendment, only national organizations approved by the Civil Ministry and with at least five years of active work in public interest litigation are allowed to file environmental cases on behalf of a group.

Ma Jun, head of a Beijing-based environmental think tank, said that might be expanded with the new draft.

“We understand that the current version [of the amendment] which is going to be submitted will further extend the standing, which is encouraging. That will hopefully allow more environmental groups to get the standing to file public interest lawsuits," he said.

"It's a positive move, but if you compare it with the Hong Kong situation or other Commonwealth countries, you can say the threshold is still much higher," said Lin Feng, a professor of law at City University of Hong Kong.

The United States has been in the forefront of class-action legislation, and allows individuals to bring collective lawsuits against polluters.

Legislation in Europe varies in scope, and some countries retain a more narrow approach on who can sue.
 
Last year, the European Union recommended member states introduce “collective redress mechanism” in their systems by 2015.

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid