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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Senior Judges Agree to Strengthen Enforcement of Environment Laws

Johannesburg, 27 August— More than 100 influential judges have agreed that they must do more to promote the legislation and the enforcement of environmental laws in their countries.

At a meeting sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme held just before the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the jurists unanimously adopted the Johannesburg Principles on the Role of Law and Sustainable Development, a document that affirms that an independent judiciary is vital for the implementation, development and enforcement of environmental law.

South Africa's Chief Justice, Arthur Chaskalson, who chaired the meeting, said, "Our declaration and proposed programme of work are, I believe, a crucial development in the quest for development that respects people and that respects the planet for current and future generation and for all living things."

The big problem, Chaskalson said the key was to strengthen the capacity of the courts and the legal profession in developing countries. The judges, in the declaration, said that a deficiency in knowledge, relevant skills and information "is one of the principal causes that contribute to the lack of effective implementation, development and enforcement of environmental law."

While communities themselves, he said, were the primary actor responsible for the environment, the legal framework must be there to deal with people who do not comply. To ensure that people could enforce the law, he said access to courts should be made easier and the rules of standing should be relaxed.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said the problem was not a lack of environmental agreements. "We have over 500 international and regional agreements covering everything from the protection of the ozone layer to the conservation of the oceans and seas." The problem, he said, was they had not been fully implemented and would remain as "paper tigers" until they were.

There are inherent limitations on the judiciary, according to South Africa's Deputy Chief Justice, Pius Langa. He explained that courts can't take up matters on their own. "Matters must be brought to the court," he said, and the issue, then, is a matter of access to the courts "so NGOs and private people can come to the courts and exercise their rights. Judges can't do everything."

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24 August 2006