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What's Law Got To Do With It? Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Natalie Morris, Singapore Aug 27, 2002
Environment , Human Rights   Opinions


Johannesburg, August (GYRP) – Everybody knew that a host of different stakeholders would be descending on Johannesburg to attend the World Summit -- businesspeople, civil society representatives, government officials, reporters -- but who would have expected High Court and Supreme Court Judges to join in?

The Global Judges Symposium, grouping 120 senior judges from 60 countries, has taken the opportunity of the World Summit to meet here and issue a declaration promising tougher enforcement of breaches of environmental law around the world. It was the first such legal gathering ever.

Called “The Johannesburg Principles on the Role of Law and Sustainable Development", the judges’ action plan was worked out at a meeting of the Symposium held here last week and is now being presented to the Summit.

The key objective? To improve the adoption and enforcement of laws related to the environment, mainly through a capacity building programme for judges and legal experts, particularly in developing nations.

This may sound rather ‘highfalutin’ in the context of a Summit pledged to focus on the critical global issues of water and sanitation, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity.. So, does it mean that the Global Judges Symposium is just another example of a group of people jumping on the bandwagon of the Summit and churning out yet another token pledge in support of sustainable development?

It seems the answer must be: no. The judiciary is generally recognised as one of the pillars of modern life, providing the framework for the proper and ordered functioning of society – including protection of the environment. But even an infinite number of international treaties and national laws would be useless unless properly enforced. In the words of Dr Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), they would simply be "paper tigers".

But that does not deal with the issue of whether the "Johannesburg Principles" will have any tangible, concrete outcome.

Here the answer may be: yes. According to Justice Arthur Chaskalson, Chief Justice of South Africa, some of the suggestions that were discussed at the Global Judges Symposium can be implemented immediately, at least at the local community level.

Moreover, the milestone in getting all these Chief Justices and senior judges to come together at the Symposium will surely facilitate the sharing of landmark cases between countries, another of the proposed improvements.

© Global Youth Reporters Programme 2002



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Natalie Morris

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