The law is not written for the ministry?

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Feature story - 13 December, 2012
The recent actions of the Ministry of Natural Resources suggest that this authority is either deliberately ignoring the law, or is not able to execute it.

In early December, Greenpeace received from the Ministry a rather weird commentary on the illegal decision of the Government of the Altai Republic, which allows construction of linear features in the Ukok Quiet Zone NaturalPark. The Ministry stated that, at the moment, a draft of decree, which stipulates for amendments to the Statute of the Ukok Quiet Zone and Uch-Enmek natural parks, was not approved.

However, it was declared by the Ministry’s representatives in August 2012 that “...the law requires approval of amendments to the regional natural parks’ Regulations and Statutes”. The Ministry's press service explained: “The decree of the Government of the Republic of Altai as of 02/08/12 has not been reported for approval to the Ministry of Natural Resources. In case of receipt of this document to the Ministry, it will be considered in all available aspects, including those arising from the international commitments of the Russian Federation”.

We observe these dates in perplexity: the decree was issued on 02/08/12, then it was published and came into force on 17/08/12, but by 30th of August, it has not been received for the mandatory approval to the Ministry of Natural Resources. Then in early December, all of a sudden it turned out that a draft of the decree was nevertheless received “in due order”, but so far has not been approved.

We can suppose that the decree was received by the Ministry of Natural Resources retroactively, but in this case it does not correspond to the “due order”.

On August 29th Greenpeace addressed to the Ministry with a requirement to ensure the implementation of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s decision on the “Golden Mountains of Altai”: from the point of view of the Committee, any decision on development of gas pipeline on the territory of the World Heritage Site will be a threat to the outstanding universal value of the object and will provide basis for entering the object in the List of World Heritage in Danger. In this case, the Russian government will be almost at the same stage with the Talibs who shoot splendid statues of Buddha with projectiles, or the militants destroying world heritage sites in Mali.

Obviously, the above-mentioned decree of the Government of the Altai Republic is a direct violation of the Committee's decision, and the Ministry of Natural Resources must provide against this violation, since it is the Ministry’s responsibility to ensure the implementation in Russia of the UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. However, to this day, Greenpeace has received no response to this request, and no expected action is observed that would correspond to the decisions of the World Heritage Committee.

Unfortunately, this is not the only example of an inappropriate attitude of the Ministry to the violations of international agreements. In 2010, the Ministry decided to change the boundaries of the World Heritage site “Virgin Komi Forests” (Yugyd Va National Park). A gold deposit “Chudnoe” was excluded from its territory, and since 2011 exploration works started, that have been repeatedly recognized as illegal by the World Heritage Committee and the Prosecutor General's Office. Greenpeace required the Ministry of Natural Resources to implement the decision of the Prosecutor General's Office, but there has been no response for over 2 months.

The Ministry reacted much faster however when it expressed its position on the construction of “Lagonaki” ski resort in the Caucasus Nature Biosphere Reserve (a World Heritage Site “Western Caucasus”): in pursuance of the protocol of the meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister A. Khloponin, “the Ministry of Natural Resources, with the participation of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Adygea and OAO “Resorts of the North Caucasus”, would prepare request to the World Heritage Committee for changing the boundaries of the “Western Caucasus” heritage site, with a view to submit it to the World Heritage Centre by February 1, 2013”.

Thereby, if the Committee decides that the construction is not possible, some state authority would be used to simply change the boundaries, so that there are no restrictions for building. While the Ministry, which is obliged to preserve precious natural objects, is ignoring scientific findings about Lagonaki Plateau, showing that it is one of the most valuable parts of the Caucasus Nature Reserve. Moreover, the World Heritage Committee has repeatedly asserted that construction in this area is inadmissible.

“The position of the Ministry in relation to the Russian World Heritage sites is completely unacceptable” – states the head of Greenpeace Russia World Heritage Program Andrey Petrov. “Most likely, this will lead to transfer of at least three above-mentioned World Heritage sites to the List of World Heritage in Danger, already at the next session of the Committee in June 2013. The blame for this fact, shameful for our country, certainly lies on the Ministry of Natural Resources. It appears that this authority is unable to accomplish its main functions, and there is a ripe necessity to transfer the functions of preserving most valuable territories to another state body, more competent and independent”.

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