EIA should be replaced by an Environment and Human Right Impact Assessment system
Ng Yap Hwa
Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
Scrutiny of the principles of conducting EIA in Malaysia shows it is outdated and has failed to adopt current international best practices.
There are many development projects approved by the government that forcefully evicts indigenous people, urban settlers, farmers and fishermen.
The EIA guidelines stipulate that the EIA study should solicit inputs from all stakeholders, the project proponent and decision makers are to be held accountable legally by stakeholders, and the presence of a participatory process that will allow the affected public to express their concern. The proposed baseline study includes the aspects of geography, environment, biological, socio-economic activities, archaeological and historical resources.
These criteria demonstrate that the primary focus of the guidelines is more about the impact of the project on the environment rather than the protection of human rights of affected individuals and communities. The guideline is silent on the huge impact of a development project on the individuals and communities, such as their right to adequate standard of housing, water, food and health should they be displaced from their lands.
The ineffectiveness of Malaysia's EIA is evident when affected individuals and communities cry foul over the lack of consultation and respect of their rights in numerous huge development projects. The people are always the last ones who know the proposed development project through the media.
Value(s) and Belief(s):
To address this problem, the EIA must be holistically reformed, and a human rights impact assessment system (HRIA) included. Everyone has his / her right to housing which is in relation to his / her right to food, work and cultures. Public, private and government-linked corporations must adhere to human rights standards and employ human rights impact assessment prior to approving any development projects of all scales, especially those on the mega spectrum.
Proposal of Solution:
As the first step, the government should revamp section 34A of the EQA to make HRIA enforceable. The Minister's power to "prescribe any activity" that requires EIA study should be restricted. A transparent and clear criterion for EIA study must be re-formulated with the assistance of environmental experts and experienced foreign policy makers.
More specifically, we propose to amend section 34A of the Environment Quality Act 1974
Section 34A(2)Any person intending to carry out any of the prescribed activities shall, before any approval for the carrying out of such activity is granted by the relevant approving authority, submit a report to the Director General. The report shall be in accordance with the guidelines prescribed by the Director General and shall contain an assessment of the impact such activity will have or is likely to have on the environment and human rights and the proposed measures that shall be undertaken to prevent, reduce or control the adverse impact on the environment and human rights.
The words ‘and human rights’ should also be added to sections 34A(3), 34A(4) and 34A(7).
In addition, we propose to amend section 34A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976
21A(1A)The State Authority may specify that the development proposal report submitted under subsection (1) in respect of certain categories of development shall include an analysis of the social and human rights implications of the development for the area which is the subject of the application for planning permission.
The principle of HRIA should be implemented at projects at federal, state and municipal levels.
In short, the government must move our environmental policy from a charity-based to rights-based approach. Putting people before profit.
10 key criteria for HRIA
• Meaningful participation
• Use of human rights standards
• Analysis of actual and potential impacts (caused, contributed to and directly linked to)
• Assessment of severity of human rights impacts
• Inclusion of impact mitigation measures
Focus on access to remedy
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