Environmental Ombudsman in Third Year of Operation
Author: Frans van Haren
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 03/17/2003
The processes of globalisation that have produced a new generation of opportunities and benefits have also give risen to an increasing potential for conflicts of an environmental, natural resources and/or sustainable development nature with a significant international dimension.
Global human demographic, investment and consumption patterns place unprecedented demands on the utilisation and regenerative capacity of the natural ecosystems and their components. Areas that are slated for industrial or agricultural development or for resource extraction are often important for the conservation of biological diversity or are inhabited by indigenous and other long-term occupant communities.
BACKED BY IUCN & EARTH COUNCIL
These were the circumstances that have led the Earth Council and the World Conservation Union – IUCN – to co-found an international “ombudsman” function for the prevention and resolution of conflicts pertaining to environment, natural resources and sustainable development with an international or a trans-boundary dimension. This newly created entity, the International Ombudsman Centre for the Environment and Development, or “OmCED”, is, in the words of one of its supporters, an important step forward in the follow-up to both the Stockholm and Rio Conferences.
The relationship of OmCED with its two co-founding organisations is significant to understand better the role of OmCED. IUCN has a long history of involvement with investigating conflictive issues, alerting actors to potential contentious results of their actions and creating opportunities for problem solving and mediation. The Earth Council, through its link with UNCED, and its unique constituency, has been playing an increasingly crucial role in advancing the cause of sustainable development. It has been instrumental in setting up, or providing assistance to, National Councils for Sustainable Development in many different countries around the globe.
The fact that the United Nations University for Peace has shown a keen interest in the initiative and has offered its campus for OmCED’s headquarters, contributed to the creation of a critical mass of expertise that facilitated the launching of OmCED.
While some issues may be dealt with through the legal system of the jurisdiction in which the victims or beneficiaries reside or through recognised arbitration organs, depending on the disposition of the parties involved, in many cases, legal procedures are often tedious and costly. Many conflicts can be more expeditiously and effectively resolved through non-adversarial and non-judicial investigation and/or mediation mechanisms involving all stakeholders. It is precisely to provide this opportunity that OmCED has been created. After a thorough analysis of the wide array of international bodies in place, IUCN and the Earth Council concluded that existing global mechanisms do not cover such a broad mandate (instruments in place are only limited to the actions of certain institutions or to the parties of specific Conventions or Treaties). Preventing non-sustainable development practices from prevailing is part of the management of globalisation and is at the core of OmCED’s mission.
UNIVERSAL RESPECT & TRUST
In order to be acceptable by the stakeholders, the identification of potential conflicts, the process of investigation, the promotion of anticipated measures to prevent them, and the provision of mediation services when conflicts arise, can only be undertaken by organisations with the professional competence, integrity, objectivity and independence that will command universal respect and trust. With the decision to create OmCED, IUCN and the Earth Council, in collaboration with the United Nations University for Peace and other associated organisations, have established just that.
In the next issue of the Monitor some cases that have actually been scrutinized by OmCED will be reported in detail.
Bio: Frans van Haren is Secretary-General OMCED, and an Ambassador for the government of the Netherlands. OMCED can be contacted via the Internet: www.omced.org