- Aarhus Convention
UNECEConvention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, usually known as the Aarhus Convention, was signed on June 25, 1998in the Danish city of Aarhus. It entered into force on 30 October 2001. As of April 2008, it had been signed by 40 (primarily European and Central Asian) countries and the European Community and ratified by 41 countries. It had also been ratified by the European Community, which has begun applying Aarhus-type principles in its legislation, notably the Water Framework Directive(Directive 2000/60/EC).
The Aarhus Convention grants the public rights regarding access to information, public participation and access to justice, in governmental decision-making processes on matters concerning the local, national and transboundary environment. It focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities.
The Convention has a unique Compliance Review Mechanism, which can be triggered in four ways: 1) a Party makes a submission concerning its own compliance, 2) a Party makes a submission concerning another Party's compliance, 3) the Convention Secretariat makes a referral to the Committee, or 4) a member of the public makes a communication concerning the compliance of a party. The Compliance mechanism is unique in international environmental law, as it allows members of the public to communicate concerns about a Party's compliance directly to a committee of international legal experts empowered to examine the merits of the case. Nonetheless, the Compliance Committee cannot issue binding decisions, but rather makes recommendations to the full Meeting of the Parties (MoP). However, in practise, as MoPs occur infrequently, Parties attempt to comply with the recommendations of the Compliance Committee. As of April 2008, 21 communications from the public - many originating with non-governmental organizations - and 1 submission from Party had been lodged with the Convention's Compliance Committee. [Aarhus Convention - Public Participation [http://www.unece.org/env/pp/pubcom.htm] ]
The Kiev Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers to the Aarhus Convention was adopted at an extra-ordinary meeting of the Parties on
21 May 2003, in Kiev, Ukraine. 36 States and the European Communitysigned the Protocol. As of April 2008, 7 countries had ratified the Protocol. The European Community had also ratified the Protocol, leading to the expectation that the other 25 EU member States would follow suit.
The Kiev Protocol is the first legally binding international instrument on
Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs). PRTRs are inventories of pollution from industrial sites and other sources such as agriculture and transport. The objective of the Protocol is "to enhance public access to information through the establishment of coherent, nationwide pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs)." The Protocol places indirect obligations on private enterprises to report annually to their national governments on their releases and transfers of pollutants.
Parties to the Protocol need not be Parties to the Convention. The Protocol is in this sense a free-standing, international agreement. The Kiev Protocol on PRTRs will enter into force 90 days after the sixteenth State ratifies or accedes to the agreement.
An amendment to the Aarhus Convention on "Public Participation in Decisions on Deliberate Release into the Environment and Placing on the Market of Genetically Modified Organisms" was adopted at the Second Meeting of the Parties on
27 May 2005, in Almaty, Kazakhstan. As of April 2008, it had been ratified by 11 countries. The GMO amendment will enter into force 90 days after at least three-quarters of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention ratify it. [Aarhus Convention - Public Participation [http://www.unece.org/env/pp/ratification.htm] ]
United Nations Secretary-General
Kofi Annan(1997-2006) has said, "Although regional in scope, the significance of the Aarhus Convention is global. It is by far the most impressive elaboration of principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which stresses the need for citizens' participation in environmental issues and for access to information on the environment held by public authorities. As such it is the most ambitious venture in the area of environmental democracy so far undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations."
The influence of the Aarhus Convention also extends beyond the environmental field. At the 2nd
Internet Governance Forum, held on 12-15 May 2007, in Rio de Janeiro, the Convention was presented as a model of public participation and transparency in the operation of international forums.
Freedom of information legislation
* [http://www.unece.org/env/pp/ UNECE Aarhus Convention website]
* [http://aarhusclearinghouse.unece.org/ UNECE Aarhus Convention Clearinghouse website]
* [http://www.rac.org.ua/index.php?id=27&L=1 Case Law of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (2004-2008)] , "in English and Russian"
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