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

    Video US Observes Memorial Day With Wreath-laying, National Concert

    Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora