New environmental ombudsman centre begins work this month

A new centre for mediation and advice on environmental and sustainable development issues is beginning work this month. The new International Ombudsman Centre for the Environment and Development (OmCED) is being established in response to problems brought about by globalisation.

Founded by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the Earth Council Foundation, the organisation is designed to identify, advise on, investigate and mediate in international disputes over the environment, natural resources and sustainable development. It will seek to open up avenues by which conflicts can be avoided, and to assist in obtaining redress for victims.

“More and more seemingly legitimate economic activities have the potential of conflict between those who benefit from them and those who are affected negatively, often being separated by national borders,” Frans van Haren, the Principle OmCED Advisor, told edie. “In many cases these involve the poor and disadvantaged who are least able to protect their interests or assert their rights.”

Issues which the OmCED aim to assist in include trans-boundary impacts of development projects, or problems that may arise from the management and development of ecosystems which extend across more than one country, such as trans-boundary waters, or the exploitation and management of migratory species. Some issues, says van Haren, may be caused by investment initiatives which involve intensified pressure on traditionally shared resources, resulting in the displacement of people, or affecting their traditional way of life.

“Some cases can 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,” said van Haren. “But in many instances, such conflictive situations can be more expeditiously and effectively investigated and/or dealt with through a non-adversarial and non-judicial mechanism, involving all stakeholders.”

The idea for an international ombudsman was originally conceived at the 1992 Rio de Janeiro conference, where a need was established for an objective international mechanism for anticipating, preventing, investigating, and mediating in contentious issues regarding the environment and development.

The creation of OmCED has been assisted by the experience of the IUCN in environmental mediation, and the mandate of the United Nations University for Peace. In its initial pilot phase, the OmCED will be working in close co-operation with its founding organisations and the staff of the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica, where its headquarters will be based.

All complaints should be in English, Spanish or French, and a notification of receipt will be sent out within two working days, says the OmCED. Complaints can be emailed to As of August 1st, 2000 the centre will be located at the University for Peace campus, P.O. Box 319-6100, San Jose, Costa Rica; Tel: (506) 205 1600; Fax: (506) 249 3500. Though confidentiality will be honoured, the OmCED stress than anonymous complaints cannot be accepted.

The OmCED will be evaluated after two years, coinciding with the next Earth Summit.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie