The UN Special Rapporteur for Environment Defenders Michel Forst has called on Cyprus to lead a group of countries in promoting the Aarhus Convention.

Adopted in June 1998, the Aarhus Convention protects every person’s right to live in a healthy environment. It guarantees the public three key rights on environmental issues: access to information, public participation and access to justice.

Forst met Agriculture Minister Maria Panayiotou on Tuesday. He is also set to meet environmental commissioner Antonia Theodosiou, as well as representatives of NGOs and institutions dealing with environmental issues.

Following the meeting, Panayiotou said that Cyprus is the first country to officially invite Forst to see how the Aarhus Convention is being implemented and to explain the necessary steps.

She added that the call for Cyprus to lead a group of countries in promoting it is an honour.

This is a very significant visit, as Forst has recently been elected, with the aim of establishing a mechanism for rapid response to cases of persecution, harassment, and other forms of reprisals against anyone exercising their rights on environmental justice issues,” Panayiotou said.

She also added that they exchanged views with Forst on general issues regarding the implementation of the Aarhus Convention in Cyprus and the efforts of the ministry and relevant authorities for information, awareness-raising, and skill development in Cypriot society regarding environmental law, access to justice in environmental matters, and the protection of environmental defenders.

Forst expressed satisfaction with the political support for his mission from the minister.

He also explained that upon the completion of his visit to Cyprus on Friday, he will convey his initial findings to the government. During his meetings with stakeholders and organisations in the coming days, he will seek testimonies and information on how they perceive the situation in Cyprus.

I also hope to hear good ideas and good practices, which I will share with the government, with the aim of improving participation in the whole process of protecting environmental defenders,” he concluded.

One of the highlights of Forst’s visit to Cyprus will be the conference jointly organised by the environmental commissioner, the University of Cyprus and the Federation of Environmental Organisations of Cyprus titled Access to Environmental Justice and Protection of Environmental Defenders.

During the conference, the public will be informed about the state of access to justice for environmental issues in Cyprus, as well as the role of the Special Rapporteur on an international level.