Public litigation to protect wetlands

Updated: Nov 10, 2022 China Daily Print
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Visitors walk through the East Lake National Wetland Park in Wuhan, Hubei province, in February. [Photo by ZHANG LIEWEN/For]

Procuratorial organs will make full use of public interest litigation to promote wetland protection along with other departments, said a senior prosecutor of the Supreme People's Procuratorate.

Wetland protection is an important component of the ecological environment and resources, which is one of the statutory fields of procuratorial public interest litigation, said Hu Weilie, head of the SPP's eighth procuratorial office.

Hu made the remarks while introducing 12 typical cases for protecting wetlands, which will provide guidance for other procuratorates in handling cases during the 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Wuhan, Hubei province.

The procuratorate may file an administrative public interest lawsuit against the departments involved in the case to urge them to perform their duties or file a civil public interest lawsuit against the wrongdoers to ask them to stop their illegal acts and carry out ecological restoration, according to the SPP.

In one typical case, a fisherman in Quanzhou, Fujian province, farmed within an enclosed area of the wetland nature reserve in Quanzhou Bay without approval.

The reserve covers about 7,000 hectares and includes plains, water and forested land. In March 2018, the rural and water resources bureau in Fengze district, Quanzhou, issued a notice requiring the fisherman to immediately stop unauthorized farming.

However, the illegal activities were still ongoing three months later. So the district's procuratorate filed a case for investigation, finding that the rural and water resources bureau failed to fully perform its duties and as a result caused damage to the ecological environment.

In July, the procuratorate sent a procuratorial suggestion to the bureau, reminding it to perform its duties and take effective measures to stop the illegal activities and punish the violators.

Although the bureau replied in September that it had twice ordered the fisherman to cease the unauthorized farming, the procuratorate's inspection in December found that farming still existed and the damaged areas had not been restored.

The procuratorate then initiated an administrative public interest litigation against the bureau, asking the court to order the bureau to fully perform its supervision duties of the illegally occupied wetland, and the court approved the petition in March 2019.

Later, the district government issued a compensation plan, enabling 239 fishermen to receive compensation for stopping farming in the wetland. The authorities cleaned up 562 enclosed areas and recovered more than 93 hectares of wetland in the reserve, effectively protecting the wetland ecology.

China has formed a relatively complete legal protection system for the ecological environment and resources, and procuratorial organs will step up efforts to implement the law on wetlands protection, which was passed by China's top legislature in December and took effect on June 1, and which strengthens the collaboration between departments involved in wetland protection, Hu said.

"We will also strengthen the connection of enforcement and judicial procedures related to wetland cases, and capitalize on the procuratorial public interest litigation in wetland protection," he said.

From July 2017 to the end of June 2022, prosecutors nationwide used public interest litigation to restore about 524,000 hectares of cultivated land, woodlands, wetlands and grasslands, cleaned up more than 45.8 million metric tons of garbage and solid waste and recovered 9.35 billion yuan ($1.3 billion) for ecological restoration, according to the SPP.

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