Third South Asia Judicial Roundtable on Environmental Justice

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The Third South Asia Judicial Roundtable on Environmental Justice commenced at the Central Bank today with President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Chief Guest. Chief Justice Mohan Peiris and ministers were among the participants.

The President was greeted at the venue to the beating of drums. Chief Justice Peiris delivered the opening remarks followed by the welcome address by Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vice President Bruce Lawrence Davis.

The keynote address was delivered by United Nations Environment Program Environmental Law and Conventions Director Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.

The Roundtable took place in Colombo  under the theme ‘Environmental Justice for Sustainable Green Development’.

This is the third in a series of Judicial Roundtables organised as a part of an ADB initiative led by Irum Ahsan on Building Capacity for Environmental Prosecution, Adjudication, Dispute Resolution, Compliance, and Enforcement in Asia, and is held in Colombo on an invitation by the Chief Justice.

The event was organised by the Supreme Court under the patronage of ADB and with the support of an organising committee led by Colombo Law Society President Amal Randeniya.

Delegations comprising Supreme Court Judges and representatives from South Asian countries are in Colombo for the Roundtable.

Supreme Court member and Afghanistan Supreme Court Public Security Tribunal Chief Dr. Abdul Malik Kamawi, Bangladesh Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain, Bhutan Supreme Court Senior Most Judge Tshering Wangchuk, India Supreme Court Senior Most Judge H.L. Dattu, Maldives Supreme Court Justice Dr. Ahmed Abdulla Didi, Nepal Supreme Court Justice Om Prakash Mishra and Sarmad Jalal Osmany, Pakistan Supreme Court Judge are amongst the South Asian delegates. Other special guests participating in this Roundtable are Lord Robert Carnwath, Judge, Supreme Court of England,Adel Omar Sherif, Deputy Chief Justice of Egypt, Clifford Wallace, Senior Judge, Chief Judge Emeritus, The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Tun Arifin bin Zakaria, Chief Justice of Malaysia and Dr. Bakary Kante, Chairman/Managing Director, Africa Sustainability Centre.

Vice President Davis, Deputy General Counsel Ramit Nagpal, and Country Director Sri Widowati are representing ADB.

South Asia, being home to around 1.6 billion people, is faced with many challenges such as rapid population growth, increasing urbanisation and scarcity of resources. Demand for higher economic development puts enormous pressure on the natural capital and environment of these countries and calls for swift action for environmental protection.

The effects of climate change are also seen in the region with melting glaciers and rising sea levels drawing much needed attention to curb environmental pollution and to increase conservation and preservation efforts.

Irreversible effects of development activities on the environment highlight the significance of taking the environment into consideration in development decision-making and appeal for strict adherence to principles of sustainable development. Although adequate policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks are in place in all South Asian countries, there is much room for improvement when it comes to implementation and compliance with environmental laws.

Environmental disputes are different from other legal disputes as there is no discernible winner, with the environment and the people seen as the losing party. Exclusivity of environmental disputes bring the competency requirements of judges adjudicating the same to a distinctive level. Simply put, in hearing and determining environmental disputes, judges have to assume more of the role of a mediator than an adjudicator.

Hence, the judges have to be thorough with judicial tools such as alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. In addition, knowledge of other disciplines such as environmental science and health are needed for judges to make informed decisions. The objective of this Roundtable is to build the capacity of South Asian judiciaries on environmental justice for sustainable green development. The Roundtable is expected to provide a platform for exchange of ideas between the judges representing South Asian countries and other regions and experts from other fields and disciplines, as well as from members of the academe and civil society. The Roundtable consists of six thematic sessions where eminent foreign and local speakers will make presentations followed by rewarding panel discussions.

At the concluding session of the Roundtable, delegates from South Asian countries are expected to deliberate on four thematic areas, namely (1) judicial training and capacity enhancement; (2) regional integration and cooperation; (3) enhancing the efficacy of the judicial/justice system for environmental justice; and (4) use of Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms (mediation/conciliation and other innovative methods) for better environmental dispute management and enhancing justice, leading to the formulation of action ideas to be adopted as the Colombo Action Plan (CAP) for post Roundtable execution.