ARTICLE 19 welcomes and supports ECLAC Road Map and Plan of Action on access to Environmental Information in Latin America and the Caribbean
18 Apr 2013
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ARTICLE 19 strongly welcomes the initiative by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) to promote the right of access to environmental information, public participation and access to justice, as part of the Application of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The initiative is essential to harmonize the disparate international, regional, sub-regional and national efforts to protect the environment and to promote sustainable development.
In June 2012, at the Rio + 20 Summit, nations from the Latin American and Caribbean region issued a declaration agreeing to begin discussions on developing a regional treaty on access to environmental information, public participation and access to justice (The Rio Principle 10 rights), under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Latin American and Caribbean (ECLAC). The treaty would be an important step in advancing the rights across the region in the same manner that the UNECE Aarhus Convention did for Europe. Since then, ECLAC has been hosting meetings and conducting research on the current situation in the region. This week, the countries hosted their 2nd official meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico to discuss their Acton Plan and Road Map. ARTICLE 19 participated in the meeting and submitted these comments on the Action Plan to the delegations.
The need for a binding convention
ARTICLE 19 strongly urges the delegates to agree that the final result of the process should be a legally binding convention that harmonizes the disparate situations and initiatives across the region and provides for strong rights of access to information, public participation and access to justice to all persons.
We believe that a non-binding resolution or other non-binding action plan would not be an effective use of the considerable resources that will be used for this process. Twenty years after the Rio Declaration, Principle 10 access rights are already well established in international and regional law and many non-binding initiatives already are in place. These include:
- United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Bali Guidelines sets out a detailed voluntary framework on implementation of Principle 10.
- The Organization of American States has issued numerous resolutions on access to information including the Declaration of Santa Cruz + 10, along with several General Assembly declaration’s and the model law on access to information, as well as the Inter-American Strategy on Public Participation, which has set out detailed standards and a plan of action for promotion of public participation. We also note that the OAS has developed Guidelines for Preparation of Progress Indicators in the Area of Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights (OEA/Ser.L/V/II.132) to allow signatories of the San Salvador Protocol to monitor the three access rights under the Convention.
- The Inter-American Democratic Charter recognizes the right of the public to participate in environmental affairs as a fundamental basis of democratic society.
- The Central American Commission on Environment and Development in cooperation with United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) has been active in promoting national pollution registers and working regionally under the Central American Integration System framework.
In addition to these initiatives, there are already a number of legally biding instruments which oblige states to implement access rights but do not set out a comprehensive framework:
- The UN Human Rights Committee has found that the right of public access to information is an essential part of international human rights law under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (General Comment 34, CCPR/C/GC/34)
- The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has found that the right of access to information is part of Article 13 of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights in the Claude Reyes v. Chile case; they have also identified the right of participation in Saramaka People v Suriname and right to access to justice in numerous cases.
- A number of regional trade agreements including the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation and the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement set out environmental obligations
- Environmental impact assessments, with their requirements of public information and participation, are now considered customary international law (Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay)) as well as enshrined in agreements including the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention).
Thus, ARTICLE 19 believes it is more important to build upon these efforts, rather than to repeat general or non-binding principles again. It is time to focus on the important task of ensuring that all nations adopt and implement comprehensive laws that provide for these rights to be effectively available.
A broad approach is needed:
ARTICLE 19 also urges the delegations, as they set out the scope of the initiative, to consider the issues broadly.
Within the field of environmental protection, we also note that there have been numerous progressive moves in the past 20 years which should be incorporated into the instrument, either directly or as protocols. These include environmental and strategic impact assessments, pollution release transfer registers and public complaints mechanisms.
Furthermore, there is a need to look beyond the narrow confines of just environmental law. The Rio + 20 Declaration “The World We Want” reemphasized the links between environmental protection and the right to development, under the banner of sustainable development. Numerous UN and regional bodies and Special Rapporteurs have noted the importance of the access rights in related areas including the rights to health and water and the rights of indigenous groups. A better approach would be to ensure that all rights relating to sustainable development are encompassed within the framework rather than artificially limiting it.
As the process moves forward, we will be happy to provide further substantive information on these issues.
The highest levels of openness and participation:
We welcome the recognition in the Road Map and Action Plan of the importance of civil society participation in the process. We believe that the process should adopt the highest levels of openness and participation. The purpose of the initiative is to develop a mechanism to enhance the rights of individuals so that they may enjoy a clean and health environment and other social and economic rights. It is therefore crucial to ensure that individuals and civil society organizations (CSO) that represent them are deeply involved in developing those rights. We note that in many of the national initiatives in the field have come from CSO initiatives and that many UN bodies already recognize how important civil society participation is in developing environmental agreements. As stated by the UNFCCC secretariat:
Since the early days of the climate change Convention, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been actively involved, attending sessions and exchanging views with other participants, including delegates. It is recognized that this involvement allows vital experience, expertise, information and perspectives from civil society to be brought into the process to generate new insights and approaches. Furthermore, the access and participation of observers to the process promotes transparency in this increasingly complex universal problem. Such participation flourishes in an atmosphere of mutual trust which acknowledges respect for others and their opinions, and takes into account the nature of intergovernmental sessions.
We welcome the provisions in section IV of the Action Plan that set the default for all meetings as open and requirements for access to documents and participation.
We would also like to urge that the meetings are not only open and allow for public interventions but that civil society organizations are treated as active and equal partners in the process with the ability to engage fully. As a model for participation, we recommend that the “Principles on Stakeholder Participation in UNEP” presented at the 14th Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum (GMGSF-14) be considered.
At a minimum, we urge the following recommendations on participation:
- Official CSO representation in all meetings including plenaries, working groups, bureau, friends of the chair and other related meetings and groups.
- At least one CSO member on all drafting working groups with full contribution rights.
- National partnerships which provide for CSO to be an equal partner in development of national initiatives. CSO membership on national delegations should be strongly encouraged.
- Trust fund to ensure that CSOs are able to attend meetings.
- CSO and public access to all documentation in real time.
ARTICLE 19 strongly supports this initiative and stands ready to provide any assistance.
For further information
In Brazil: Please contact Paula Martins, Director, ARTICLE 19 Brazil and South America (Paula@article19.org)
In Mexico: Dario Ramirez, Director, ARTICLE 19 Mexico and Central America (Dario@article19.org)
In the United Kingdom: David Banisar, Senior Legal Counsel, ARTICLE 19 (Banisar@article19.org)