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 Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes 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.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More