Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), Articles 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8
Article 2 - Definitions
For the purposes of this Convention, (...)
4. “The public” means one or more natural or legal persons, and, in accordance with national legislation or practice, their associations, organizations or groups;
5. “The public concerned” means the public affected or likely to be affected by, or having an interest in, the environmental decision-making; for the purposes of this definition, non-governmental organizations promoting environmental protection and meeting any requirements under national law shall be deemed to have an interest.
Article 3 - General Provisions
(...) 5. The provisions of this Convention shall not affect the right of a Party to maintain or introduce measures providing for broader access to information, more extensive public participation in decision-making and wider access to justice in environmental matters than required by this Convention.
(...) 9. Within the scope of the relevant provisions of this Convention, the public shall have access to information, have the possibility to participate in decision-making and have access to justice in environmental matters without discrimination as to citizenship, nationality or domicile and, in the case of a legal person, without discrimination as to where it has its registered seat or an effective centre of its activities.
Article 6 - Public participation in decisions on specific activities
1. Each Party:
(a) Shall apply the provisions of this article with respect to decisions on whether to permit proposed activities listed in annex I;
(b) Shall, in accordance with its national law, also apply the provisions of this article to decisions on proposed activities not listed in annex I which may have a significant effect on the environment. To this end, Parties shall determine whether such a proposed activity is subject to these provisions; and
(c) May decide, on a case-by-case basis if so provided under national law, not to apply the provisions of this article to proposed activities serving national defence purposes, if that Party deems that such application would have an adverse effect on these purposes.
2. The public concerned shall be informed, either by public notice or individually as appropriate, early in an environmental decision-making procedure, and in an adequate, timely and effective manner, inter alia, of:
(a) The proposed activity and the application on which a decision will be taken;
(b) The nature of possible decisions or the draft decision;
(c) The public authority responsible for making the decision;
(d) The envisaged procedure, including, as and when this information can be provided:
(i) The commencement of the procedure;
(ii) The opportunities for the public to participate;
(iii) The time and venue of any envisaged public hearing;
(iv) An indication of the public authority from which relevant information can be obtained and where the relevant information has been deposited for examination by the public;
(v) An indication of the relevant public authority or any other official body to which comments or questions can be submitted and of the time schedule for transmittal of comments or questions; and
(vi) An indication of what environmental information relevant to the proposed activity is available; and
(e) The fact that the activity is subject to a national or transboundary environmental impact assessment procedure.
3. The public participation procedures shall include reasonable time-frames
for the different phases, allowing sufficient time for informing the public in accordance with paragraph 2 above and for the public to prepare and participate effectively during the environmental decision-making.
4. Each Party shall provide for early public participation, when all options are open and effective public participation can take place.
5. Each Party should, where appropriate, encourage prospective applicants to identify the public concerned, to enter into discussions, and to provide information regarding the objectives of their application before applying for a permit.
6. Each Party shall require the competent public authorities to give the public concerned access for examination, upon request where so required under national law, free of charge and as soon as it becomes available, to all information relevant to the decision-making referred to in this article that is available at the time of the public participation procedure, without prejudice to the right of Parties to refuse to disclose certain information in accordance with article 4, paragraphs 3 and 4. The relevant information shall include at least, and without prejudice to the provisions of article 4:
(a) A description of the site and the physical and technical characteristics of the proposed activity, including an estimate of the expected residues and emissions;
(b) A description of the significant effects of the proposed activity on the environment;
(c) A description of the measures envisaged to prevent and/or reduce the effects, including emissions;
(d) A non-technical summary of the above;
(e) An outline of the main alternatives studied by the applicant; and
(f) In accordance with national legislation, the main reports and advice issued to the public authority at the time when the public concerned shall be informed in accordance with paragraph 2 above.
7. Procedures for public participation shall allow the public to submit, in writing or, as appropriate, at a public hearing or inquiry with the applicant, any comments, information, analyses or opinions that it considers relevant to the proposed activity.
8. Each Party shall ensure that in the decision due account is taken of the outcome of the public participation.
9. Each Party shall ensure that, when the decision has been taken by the public authority, the public is promptly informed of the decision in accordance with the appropriate procedures. Each Party shall make accessible to the public the text of the decision along with the reasons and considerations on which the decision is based.
10. Each Party shall ensure that, when a public authority reconsiders or updates the operating conditions for an activity referred to in paragraph 1, the provisions of paragraphs 2 to 9 of this article are applied mutatis mutandis, and where appropriate.
11. Each Party shall, within the framework of its national law, apply, to the extent feasible and appropriate, provisions of this article to decisions on whether to permit the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms into the environment.
Article 7 - Public participation concerning plans, programmes and policies relating to the environment
Each Party shall make appropriate practical and/or other provisions for the public to participate during the preparation of plans and programmes relating to the environment, within a transparent and fair framework, having provided the necessary information to the public. Within this framework, article 6, paragraphs 3, 4 and 8, shall be applied. The public which may participate shall be identified by the relevant public authority, taking into account the objectives of this Convention. To the extent appropriate, each Party shall endeavour to provide opportunities for public participation in the preparation of policies relating to the environment.
Article 8 - Public Participation During The Preparation Of Executive Regulations And/Or Generally Applicable Legally Binding Normative Instruments
Each Party shall strive to promote effective public participation at an appropriate stage, and while options are still open, during the preparation by public authorities of executive regulations and other generally applicable legally binding rules that may have a significant effect on the environment. To this end, the following steps should be taken:
(a) Time-frames sufficient for effective participation should be fixed;
(b) Draft rules should be published or otherwise made publicly available; and
(c) The public should be given the opportunity to comment, directly or through representative consultative bodies.
The result of the public participation shall be taken into account as far as possible.
Amendment to the Convention (adopted at the second meeting of the Parties held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 25-27 May 2005)
Article 6, paragraph 11
For the existing text, substitute
11. Without prejudice to article 3, paragraph 5, the provisions of this article shall not apply to decisions on whether to permit the deliberate release into the environment and placing on the market of genetically modified organisms.
Article 6 bis
After article 6, insert a new article reading
Article 6 bis - Public participation in decisions on the deliberate release into the environment and placing on the market of genetically modified organisms
1. In accordance with the modalities laid down in annex I bis, each Party shall provide for early and effective information and public participation prior to making decisions on whether to permit the deliberate release into the environment and placing on the market of genetically modified organisms.
2. The requirements made by Parties in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1 of this article should be complementary and mutually supportive to the provisions of their national biosafety framework, consistent with the objectives of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
Annex I bis
After annex I, insert a new annex reading
Annex I bis - Modalities referred to in article 6 bis
1. Each Party shall lay down, in its regulatory framework, arrangements for effective information and public participation for decisions subject to the provisions of article 6 bis, which shall include a reasonable time frame, in order to give the public an adequate opportunity to express an opinion on such proposed decisions.
2. In its regulatory framework, a Party may, if appropriate, provide for exceptions to the public participation procedure laid down in this annex:
(a) In the case of the deliberate release of a genetically modified organism (GMO) into the environment for any purpose other than its placing on the market, if:
(i) Such a release under comparable bio-geographical conditions has already been approved within the regulatory framework of the Party concerned; and
(ii) Sufficient experience has previously been gained with the release of the GMO in question in comparable ecosystems;
(b) In the case of the placing of a GMO on the market, if:
(i) It was already approved within the regulatory framework of the Party concerned; or
(ii) It is intended for research or for culture collections.
3. Without prejudice to the applicable legislation on confidentiality in accordance with the provisions of article 4, each Party shall make available to the public in an adequate, timely and effective manner a summary of the notification introduced to obtain an authorization for the deliberate release into the environment or the placing on the market of a GMO on its territory, as well as the assessment report where available and in accordance with its national biosafety framework.
4. Parties shall in no case consider the following information as confidential:
(a) A general description of the genetically modified organism or organisms concerned, the name and address of the applicant for the authorization of the deliberate release, the intended uses and, if appropriate, the location of the release;
(b) The methods and plans for monitoring the genetically modified organism or organisms concerned and for emergency response;
(c) The environmental risk assessment.
5. Each Party shall ensure transparency of decision-making procedures and provide access to the relevant procedural information to the public. This information could include for example:
(i) The nature of possible decisions;
(ii) The public authority responsible for making the decision;
(iii) Public participation arrangements laid down pursuant to paragraph 1;
(iv) An indication of the public authority from which relevant information can be obtained;
(v) An indication of the public authority to which comments can be submitted and of the time schedule for the transmittal of comments.
6. The provisions made pursuant to paragraph 1 shall allow the public to submit any comments, information, analyses or opinions that it considers relevant to the proposed deliberate release, including placing on the market, in any appropriate manner.
7. Each Party shall endeavour to ensure that, when decisions are taken on whether to permit the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment, including placing on the market, due account is taken of the outcome of the public participation procedure organized pursuant to paragraph 1.
8. Parties shall provide that when a decision subject to the provisions of this annex has been taken by a public authority, the text of the decision is made publicly available along with the reasons and considerations upon which it is based.
Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level, Article 5
Chapter B – Consultative bodies to represent foreign residents at local level
1.Each Party undertakes, subject to the provisions of Article 9, paragraph 1:
a. to ensure that there are no legal or other obstacles to prevent local authorities in whose area there is a significant number of foreign residents from setting up consultative bodies or making other appropriate institutional arrangements designed:
i. to form a link between themselves and such residents,
ii. to provide a forum for the discussion and formulation of the opinions, wishes and concerns of foreign residents on matters which particularly affect them in relation to local public life, including the activities and responsibilities of the local authority concerned, and
iii. to foster their general integration into the life of the community;
b. to encourage and facilitate the establishment of such consultative bodies or the making of other appropriate institutional arrangements for the representation of foreign residents by local authorities in whose area there is a significant number of foreign residents.
2.Each Party shall ensure that representatives of foreign residents participating in the consultative bodies or other institutional arrangements referred to in paragraph 1 can be elected by the foreign residents in the local authority area or appointed by individual associations of foreign residents.
Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Article 15
The Parties shall create the conditions necessary for the effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs, in particular those affecting them.
Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, Articles 5 and 35
Article 5 – Prevention of trafficking in human beings
1. Each Party shall take measures to establish or strengthen national co-ordination between the various bodies responsible for preventing and combating trafficking in human beings.
2. Each Party shall establish and/or strengthen effective policies and programmes to prevent trafficking in human beings, by such means as: research, information, awareness raising and education campaigns, social and economic initiatives and training programmes, in particular for persons vulnerable to trafficking and for professionals concerned with trafficking in human beings.
3. Each Party shall promote a Human Rights-based approach and shall use gender mainstreaming and a child-sensitive approach in the development, implementation and assessment of all the policies and programmes referred to in paragraph 2.
4. Each Party shall take appropriate measures, as may be necessary, to enable migration to take place legally, in particular through dissemination of accurate information by relevant offices, on the conditions enabling the legal entry in and stay on its territory.
5. Each Party shall take specific measures to reduce children’s vulnerability to trafficking, notably by creating a protective environment for them.
6. Measures established in accordance with this article shall involve, where appropriate, non-governmental organisations, other relevant organisations and other elements of civil society committed to the prevention of trafficking in human beings and victim protection or assistance.
Article 35 – Co-operation with civil society
Each Party shall encourage state authorities and public officials, to co-operate with non-governmental organisations, other relevant organisations and members of civil society, in establishing strategic partnerships with the aim of achieving the purpose of this Convention.
(B) Other texts
Document of the OSCE Moscow Meeting, 1991, Para. 43
(43) The participating States will recognize as NGOs those which declare themselves as such, according to existing national procedures, and will facilitate the ability of such organizations to conduct their national activities freely on their territories; to that effect they will
43.1) - endeavour to seek ways of further strengthening modalities for contacts and exchanges of views between NGOs and relevant national authorities and governmental institutions;
Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe, Paras. 12, 76 and 77
12. NGOs should be free to undertake research, education and advocacy on issues of public debate, regardless of whether the position taken is in accord with government policy or requires a change in the law.
VIII. Participation in decision making
76. Governmental and quasi-governmental mechanisms at all levels should ensure the effective participation of NGOs without discrimination in dialogue and consultation on public policy objectives and decisions. Such participation should ensure the free expression of the diversity of people’s opinions as to the functioning of society. This participation and co-operation should be facilitated by ensuring appropriate disclosure or access to official information.
77. NGOs should be consulted during the drafting of primary and secondary legislation which affects their status, financing or spheres of operation.
37. The ability of NGOs to undertake research, education and advocacy on issues of public debate will often be crucial in the pursuit of their objectives. It would be pointless of them to undertake such research, education and advocacy if they were not also able to disagree with governmental policy or propose changes in the law.
135. Notwithstanding the different perspective of NGOs and public authorities, it is in their common interest and that of society as a whole for them to have available effective mechanisms for consultation and dialogue so that their expertise is fully exploited. Certainly competent and responsible input by NGOs to the process of public policy formulation can contribute greatly to efforts to find solutions to the many problems that need to be addressed.
136. Although direct consultation and dialogue with all interested NGOs may not be feasible in every instance, the adoption of techniques to facilitate their input through bodies playing a co-ordinating role should be encouraged.
137. No NGO should be excluded from participation on a discriminatory basis and the expression of a diversity of views should be ensured.
138. The quality of the input of NGOs should not be undermined by inappropriate restrictions on access to official information.
139. It is essential that NGOs not only be consulted about matters connected with their objectives but also on proposed changes to the law which have the potential to affect their ability to pursue those objectives. Such consultation is needed not only because such changes could directly affect their interests and the effectiveness of the important contribution that they are able to make to democratic societies but also because their operational experience is likely to give them useful insight into the feasibility of what is being proposed.
Fundamental Principles on the Status of Non-Governmental Organisations in Europe, Principles 74, 75, 76, 77 and 78
Relations with governmental bodies
74. NGOs should be encouraged to participate in governmental and quasi-governmental mechanisms for dialogue, consultation and exchange, with the objective of searching for solutions to society’s needs.
75. Such participation should not guarantee nor preclude government subsidies, contracts or donations to individual NGOs or groups thereof.
76. Consultation should not be seen by governments as a vehicle to co-opt NGOs into accepting their priorities nor by NGOs as an inducement to abandon or compromise their goals and principles.
77. Governmental bodies can work with NGOs to achieve public policy objectives, but should not attempt to take them over or make them work under their control.
78. NGOs should also be consulted during the drafting of primary and secondary legislation which affects their status, financing or spheres of operation.
75. Competent and responsible NGO input to the process of public policy formulation enhances the applicability of legislation and the seriousness of governmental decision-making.
76. Although NGOs and state authorities sometimes have an ambiguous attitude towards dialogue, it is in the interest of them both to establish mechanisms for dialogue and consultation, as they pursue a common objective of finding solutions to society’s problems and satisfying its members’ needs. Their participation is distinct from, and does not replace, the role of political parties. Consultation may take place at a national, local or sectoral level and may be particularly useful in the drafting of legislation.
ICCPR General Comment No. 25: The Right to Participate in Public Affairs, Voting Rights and the Right of Equal Access to Public Service (Art. 25) (Fifty-seventh session, 1996)
8. Citizens also take part in the conduct of public affairs by exerting influence through public debate and dialogue with their representatives or through their capacity to organize themselves. This participation is supported by ensuring freedom of expression, assembly and association.
12. Freedom of expression, assembly and association are essential conditions for the effective exercise of the right to vote and must be fully protected.
26. The right to freedom of association, including the right to form and join organizations and associations concerned with political and public affairs, is an essential adjunct to the rights protected by article 25. Political parties and membership in parties play a significant role in the conduct of public affairs and the election process. States should ensure that, in their internal management, political parties respect the applicable provisions of article 25 in order to enable citizens to exercise their rights thereunder.
Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-making Process (Adopted by the Conference of INGOs at its meeting on 1st October 2009)
One of the major concerns of modern democracies is the alienation of citizens from the political processes. In this context, as in many others, civil society constitutes an important element of the democratic process. It provides citizens with an alternative way, alongside those of political parties and lobbies, of channelling different views and securing a variety of interests in the decision-making process.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has recognised – in CM/Recommendation(2007)14 of October 2007 – “the essential contribution made by NGOs to the development and realisation of democracy and human rights, in particular through the promotion of public awareness, participation in public life and securing the transparency and accountability of public authorities”.
At the meeting of the Council of Europe Forum for the Future of Democracy held in Sweden in June 2007, participants called on the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe to prepare a Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation which would cover subjects such as mechanisms for NGO participation in decision-making processes and civil society involvement in public policy.
Thus, the Conference of INGOs built upon this by taking the responsibility to draft the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-Making Process. This document lays out the rationale, the framework and the means for enhanced civil participation. It was prepared by experienced civil society representatives, elaborated in a pan-European consultation process, tested and commented by members of national and international nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and is already being used by activists and representatives of authorities.
The Conference of International NGOs of the Council of Europe has produced a userfriendly, structured and pragmatic instrument aimed at decision makers and organised civil society, including NGOs.
The Code offers a repertoire of good practices. It does not have a mandatory character, does not prescribe rules, or require enforcement mechanisms. It offers all actors in the democratic process guidelines stemming from concrete practical experience of dialogue and co-operation between NGOs and public authorities. The final aim is to facilitate their interaction and to enhance citizens’ empowerment and participation in the democratic process at local, regional and national levels.
The Conference sought advice and input from other Council of Europe institutions. Both the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe welcomed the Code of Good Practice: the Congress stands ready to contribute to its promotion and to use it in its work, and the Parliamentary Assembly, for its part, highlighted the particular importance of e-tools in participation.
This instrument should have and will have political repercussions. It will give impetus and backing to the current trend among local, regional and national authorities to consult and cooperate with civil society in bringing modern tools in democratic governance and at the same time deepening citizen participation in public life.
II. Objectives and targets
The principal objective of this Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation is to contribute to the creation of an enabling environment for NGOs in Council of Europe member States and Belarus by defining at European level a set of general principles, guidelines, tools and mechanisms for civil participation in the political decision-making process. The intent is that the Code of Good Practice will be implemented at local, regional and national level. The Code of Good Practice is based on actual experiences from NGOs across Europe sharing their good practices and valid methods for engaging with public authorities.
An additional objective for the Code of Good Practice is to be a relevant and effective tool for NGOs from local to international level in their dialogue with parliament, government and public authorities. It aims to be an interactive instrument and to be action-oriented so that it is useful for NGOs as well as public authorities across Europe. As a way of supporting the application of this Code of Good Practice, there will also be a bank of case studies and an additional set of practical tools.
The Code of Good Practice is aimed at national NGOs including regional and local organisations in Council of Europe member States and Belarus, as well as organisations at European and international level.
It also targets public authorities, which includes parliament, government and public administration at local, regional and national level. The target is wide, but it is intended that there are segments of the Code of Good Practice that can be used at all levels of public administration.
III. General Framework for Civil Participation
III.i Parameters of Civil Society
NGOs and organised civil society are essential contributors to the development and realisation of democracy and human rights. A Council of Europe definition of NGOs can be found in the Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2007) 14, which states that ‘NGOs are voluntary self-governing bodies or organisations established to pursue the essentially non-profit-making objectives of their founders or members.’ In relation to this Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation the term is taken to refer to organised civil society including voluntary groups, non-profit organisations, associations, foundations, charities, as well as geographic or interest-based community and advocacy groups. The core activities of NGOs are focused on values of social justice, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In these areas the purpose of NGOs is to promote causes and improve the lives of people.
NGOs form a crucial component of participation in an open, democratic society through engaging large numbers of individuals. The fact that many of these individuals also are voters underlines the complementary relationship with representative democracy.
NGOs can bring benefits of knowledge and independent expertise to the process of decision making. This has led governments at all levels, from local and regional to national, as well as international institutions, to draw on the relevant experience and competence of NGOs to assist in policy development and implementation. NGOs enjoy a unique trust from their members and society to voice concerns, to represent their interests and to gain involvement in causes, thereby providing crucial input into policy development.
This text highlights the contribution of organised civil society in the democratic process and is not focused on the related question of civic participation, i.e. individuals. In this case it is understood that the act of developing associations and community organisations constitutes an act of independent social organisation and is not purely centred on individual action. It is understood that organised groups exist to further the needs of their members and for the benefit of wider society; therefore they act as a key channel of participation and multiplier for the engagement of citizens.
III.ii Principles for Civil Participation
To foster a constructive relationship, NGOs and the public authorities at different levels, should act on the following common principles:
NGOs collect and channel views of their members, user groups and concerned citizens. This input provides crucial value to the political decision-making process, enhancing the quality, understanding and longer term applicability of the policy initiative. A pre-condition for this principle is that the processes for participation are open and accessible, based on agreed parameters for participation.
An open and democratic society is based on honest interaction between actors and sectors. Although NGOs and public authorities have different roles to play, the shared goal of improving the lives of people can only be satisfactorily reached if based on trust, implying transparency, respect and mutual reliability.
Accountability and transparency
Acting in the public interest requires openness, responsibility, clarity and accountability from both the NGOs and public authorities, with transparency at all stages.
NGOs must be recognised as free and independent bodies in respect to their aims, decisions and activities. They have the right to act independently and advocate positions different from the authorities with whom they may otherwise cooperate.
III.iii Conditions for Civil Participation
The conditions to enable associational life are well documented. In accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), these require freedom of expression (Article 10 ECHR) and freedom of assembly and association (Article 11 ECHR) and the relevant case law of the European Court for Human Rights.
To ensure that the essential contributions of NGOs are enshrined in the political decisionmaking process without discrimination, an enabling environment is required. Conditions of an enabling environment include the rule of law, adherence to fundamental democratic principles, political will, favourable legislation, clear procedures, long-term support and resources for a sustainable civil society and shared spaces for dialogue and cooperation. These conditions allow for a constructive relationship between NGOs and public authorities built on reciprocal trust and mutual understanding for participatory democracy.
IV. How to Engage
To meet the principal policy objective of the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation as well as to ensure its relevance and practical applicability for NGOs in their involvement in the political decision-making process, this section outlines how civil society may participate.
There are two interconnected dimensions to this process. Firstly levels of participation are described in section III.i, sorted in the order of increasing intensity, from simple provision of information to consultation, dialogue and finally partnership between NGOs and public authorities. Secondly the steps in the political decision-making process are outlined in section III.ii, namely the six steps taken by public authorities from agenda setting through implementation to monitoring and reformulation.
A separate section (III.iii) offers tools that may apply at any stage and that provide crosscutting support to the process of participation.
These elements are then combined to form a matrix of civil participation (IV) that provides a visual presentation of the inter-related nature of the process.
IV.i The different levels of participation
The involvement of NGOs in the different steps of the political decision-making process varies based on the intensity of participation. There are four gradual levels of participation, from least to most participative. These are: information; consultation; dialogue; and partnership. They may be applied at any step in the decision-making process but they are often particularly relevant at certain points in the process.
Access to information is the basis for all subsequent steps in the involvement of NGOs in the political decision-making process. This is a relatively low level of participation which usually consists of a one-way provision of information from the public authorities and no interaction or involvement with NGOs is required or expected
Information is relevant for all steps in the decision-making process.
This is a form of initiative where the public authorities ask NGOs for their opinion on a specific policy topic or development. Consultation usually includes the authorities informing NGOs of current policy developments and asking for comments, views and feed-back. The initiative and themes originate with the public authorities, not with the NGOs.
Consultation is relevant for all steps of the decision-making process, especially for drafting, monitoring and reformulation.
The initiative for dialogue can be taken by either party and can be either broad or collaborative.
A broad dialogue is a two-way communication built on mutual interests and potentially shared objectives to ensure a regular exchange of views. It ranges from open public hearings to specialised meetings between NGOs and public authorities. The discussion remains wide ranging and is not explicitly linked to a current policy development process.
A collaborative dialogue is built on mutual interests for a specific policy development. The collaborative dialogue usually leads to a joint recommendation, strategy or legislation. Collaborative dialogue is more empowered than the broad dialogue as it consists of joint, often frequent and regular, meetings to develop core policy strategies and often leads to agreed outcomes.
Dialogue is highly valued at all steps in the political decision-making cycle, but is crucial for agenda setting, drafting and reformulation.
A partnership implies shared responsibilities in each step of the political decision-making process from agenda setting, drafting, decision and implementation of policy initiatives. It is the highest form of participation.
At this level NGOs and the public authorities come together for a close cooperation while ensuring that the NGOs continue to be independent and have the right to campaign and act irrespective of a partnership situation. Partnership can include activities such as delegation of a specific task to an NGO, for example delivery of services, as well as participatory forums and the establishment of co-decision-making bodies, including for resource allocation.
Partnership may take place at all steps of the political decision-making process and is particularly relevant at the agenda setting or implementation steps.
IV.ii Steps in the political decision-making process
The cycle below defines the six different steps of the political decision-making process agenda setting, drafting of policy, decision-making, implementation of policy, monitoring and reformulation of policy. Each step offers opportunities for NGOs and public authorities to interact.
1. Agenda setting
The political agenda is agreed by the parliament and government but can be shaped by NGOs, or groups of NGOs, through campaigns and lobbying for issues, needs and concerns. New policy initiatives are often the result of influence of the campaigns of NGOs. During this step NGOs aim to influence decision-makers on behalf of a collective interest and act in a way that is complementary to political debate.
Contributions of NGOs:
• Advocating: raise issues, concerns and needs for a specific user group, point of view or a general public interest that is not yet covered by legislation or other policy documents, instruments or measures
• Information and awareness building: share NGO findings with the public authorities, involve and represent members, users and key citizen groups and act as channels to reach citizens; to listen, react and inform
• Expertise and advice: experts with knowledge on a specific topic play a key role in setting the political agenda. Their analysis and research identify current and future needs in society and provide crucial perspectives
• Innovation: development of new solutions and approaches; demonstrating how these may be brought onto the political agenda
• Service provision: key actor in forming policy and creating alternative or non-existing services for a specific user group
Responsibilities of public authorities:
• Information sharing: Provision of up-to-date accurate and timely information in an accessible format for all interested parties
• Procedures: Develop and adhere to a transparent decision-making process. Provide clear, open and accessible procedures for participation
• Resource provision: Enable the active participation of civil society through for example, budgetary provision, in-kind support or administrative services
• Responsiveness: Ensure active involvement of relevant public authority representatives; listen, react and give feedback
Useful tools and mechanisms:
o Easy and open access to relevant, accurate and timely information on policy process, documents and political decision-makers, e.g. online databases
o Research to understand an issue of concern and develop suggested solutions
o Campaigning and lobbying by NGOs based on awareness-raising such as policy papers, posters and leaflets, websites, media releases and public demonstrations
o Website with comprehensive access to key documents and announcement of public events
o Petitioning, can be through online tools, such as e-petition or web-forum
o Consultation, online or other techniques, to collect interests and suggestions from stakeholders
o Hearings and public forums with interested stakeholders to identify and interpret the sensitivities and interests of the different groups
o Citizens’ forums and future councils to discuss with citizens and NGOs
o Key government contact enabling civil society to access information on current policy initiatives
o Work group or committee formed as a permanent or ad hoc expert group to advise on policy preferences
Public authorities usually have well-established processes for policy drafting. Here NGOs are often involved in areas such as identifying problems, proposing solutions and providing evidence for their preferred proposal with, for example, interviews or research. Facilitating opportunities for consultation should be a key element in this step as well as various forms of dialogue to collect input from key stakeholders.
Contribution of NGOs:
• Advocating: guaranteeing that consideration is given to the needs and interests of stakeholders affected by the draft policy
• Information and awareness building: NGOs inform members, users and key citizens’ groups about the drafting process
• Expertise and advice: provide analyses and research on issues under consideration or raise additional priorities to be included in the policy draft
• Innovation: provide solutions through the introduction of new approaches, practical solutions and concrete models which bring benefits to specific user groups
• Service provision: input to policy drafting to ensure consideration is given to their specific users’ needs and that necessary conditions are met
• Watchdog function: Follow the drafting process to make sure stakeholder concerns are considered and that the process is inclusive and transparent
Responsibilities of public authorities:
• Information sharing: Provision of timely and comprehensive information on current consultation processes
• Procedures: Develop and adhere to minimum consultation standards, such as clear objectives, rules for participation, timelines, contacts etc. Organise open consultation meetings, including invitation to all potential stakeholders
• Resource provision: Provide adequate timelines and means for consultation to ensure participation of different levels of civil society
• Responsiveness: Ensure active involvement of relevant public authority representatives; listen, react and give feedback to consultation responses
Useful tools and mechanisms:
o Open and free access to policy documents, including single information point for policy drafting, with information available in different formats to reach the public
o Website with comprehensive access to key documents and announcement of public events
o Campaigns and lobbying to shape the draft policy through position documents, letters, manifestos
o Web casts from hearings, meetings and debates allowing people to watch and listen in real time
o Research to provide input to the policy drafting process
• Consultation and dialogue:
o Hearings and questions & answer panels with stakeholders to identify and interpret the sensitivities and concerns and collect proposals, face-to-face or online
o Expert seminars and meetings involving experts in the development of specialised research or studies that can be used in the drafting
o Multi-stakeholder committees and advisory bodies consisting of or including representatives from the NGO sector; could be permanent or ad-hoc
o Co-drafting: active involvement in drafting parts of the legislative process
The forms of political decision-taking vary based on national context and legislation. Common characteristics are the establishment of a government policy directive by a ministry; or legislation, such as passing a law by parliamentary vote; or public referendum, which then requires enabling legislation. Draft laws and motions should be open to input and participation of NGOs. The public authorities should evaluate different views and opinions before the decision is taken. At this step consultation is central to informed decision. However the final power of choice lies with the public authorities, unless the decision is taken by a public vote, referendum or a co-decision mechanism.
Contribution of NGOs:
• Advocating: influencing the decision makers before a vote
• Information and awareness building: informing membership, users and key citizens’ groups about the political decisions and their potential effect
• Expertise and advice: provision of detailed analysis to inform and influence decision makers
• Watchdog function: following the decision-making process, making sure it is democratic, transparent and optimally effective
Responsibilities of public authorities:
• Information sharing: Provide information on policies currently in the decision-making process
• Procedures: Offer and follow procedures for co-decision mechanisms where applicable
• Resource provision: Enable and support the active participation of civil society by associating NGOs in the decision step
• Responsiveness: Listen, take into consideration and respond to civil society input
Useful tools and mechanisms:
o Campaigning and lobbying to influence the decision makers, for example using leaflets, websites, media releases and public demonstrations
• Consultation and dialogue:
o Open plenary or committee sessions to ensure open access to debates during the decision-making
o Joint decision-making through forums, consensus conferences and other participatory meetings
o Co-decision making such as participative budgeting
This is the step at which many NGOs are most active, for example in service delivery and project execution. Much of the work done by NGOs in the previous steps includes attempts to influence the implementation of policy. This phase is especially important to ensure that the intended outcome will be fulfilled. Access to clear and transparent information on expectations and opportunities is important at this step, as well as active partnerships.
Contribution of NGOs:
• Information and awareness building: primarily focused on public awareness raising, explanation of benefits or disadvantages and impact of policy
• Service provision: one key actor in implementing policy initiatives, often carrying the main responsibility for delivery
• Watchdog function: to assess and ensure that the policy is implemented as intended without harmful side-effects
Responsibilities of public authorities:
• Information sharing: Provide information on implementation strategies, public tendering procedures and project guidelines
• Procedures: Follow established rules and regulations for policy implementation
• Resource provision: Enable the active participation of civil society in the implementation step through for example, budgetary provision, in-kind support or administrative services
• Responsiveness: Be available and react to specific needs arising from circumstances around policy implementation
Useful tools and mechanisms:
o Open and free access to public sector documents relating to projects and implementation decisions
o Website with comprehensive access to key documents and announcement of public events
o E-mail alerts announcing upcoming project and funding opportunities
o FAQs online or other channels to offer information presented as questions and answers, targeted towards providing practical help and guidance
o Publicly advertised tender procedure to provide an open transparent process for service provision
o Events, conferences, forums and seminars to inform and discuss the implementation of policy with NGOs and the public
o Capacity building seminars to increase knowledge and capacity relevant to the implementation
o Training seminars for NGOs and public authorities in specific topics relevant to implementation, such as procurement, project and funding applications
o Strategic partnership where NGOs and public authorities form a partnership to implement policy; this may range from a small pilot scheme to a full implementation responsibility
At this point the role of NGOs is to monitor and assess the outcomes of the implemented policy. It is important to have in place an effective and transparent monitoring system that ensures the policy/programme achieves the intended purpose.
Contribution of NGOs:
• Advocating: monitor and voice whether the policy initiative reached the intended beneficiaries and had the intended outcome for society
• Expertise and advice: gather evidence or research on the policy’s impact; includes think-tanks and research institutes
• Service provision: responsibility to monitor the effects of the programme in terms of quality, sustainability, effectiveness and real case examples
• Watchdog function: a priority role in monitoring effects of the policy, to ensure that the intended objectives are achieved
Responsibilities of public authorities:
• Information sharing: Provide information on current policy status
• Responsiveness: Listen, and react to specific points raised by NGOs and civil society
Useful tools and mechanisms:
o Open and free access to information on policy progress
o Evidence gathering to collect cases and statistics on project delivery
o Evaluation of policy and its impact through conferences and reporting
o Independent research studies to draw out key lessons
o Feedback mechanisms to follow progress such as polls, web surveys or questionnaires
o Work group or committee consisting of NGOs (both users and providers) in charge of the monitoring and evaluation of the policy initiative
o Work group or committee consisting of the NGO and public authorities coming together in a strategic partnership to monitor and evaluate the policy initiative
The knowledge gained from assessing the policy implementation, coupled with evolving needs in society, often require a reformulation of policy. This must be based on access to information and opportunities for dialogue to identify needs and initiatives. This reformulation allows for the initiation of a new cycle of decision-making.
Contributions of NGOs:
• Advocating: lobby for renewal of policy by expressing limitations in or side-effects of the current policy, to meet the needs of users or citizens
• Expertise and advice: conduct research and analysis to identify gaps in the current policy initiative and provide rationale for reformulation
• Innovation: develop new approaches to tackle the relevant policy issue; this can be a key element in policy renewal
• Service provision: identify obstacles and gather evidence to illustrate evolving needs that require a reformulation of policy
Responsibilities of public authorities:
• Information sharing: provision of information on possible review of a policy and their perception of changes needed in policy
• Procedures: provide clear, open and accessible processes for participation
• Resource provision: enable and support the active participation of civil society
• Responsiveness: listen and act on input from NGOs
Useful tools and mechanisms:
o Open and free access to information providing evaluations, study results and other evidence about the existing policy
o Conference or meeting to set out next steps planned by public authority
o Online consultation to gather civil society views on how to follow-up policy/project
o Seminars and deliberative forums to involve interested stakeholders in developing new directions in policy field e.g. World café, open space, other brainstorming methods
o Work group or committee where NGOs form an expert group jointly with other stakeholders and public authorities with the purpose of recommending a revised policy
IV.iii Cross-cutting tools and mechanisms for civil participation
There are certain tools or mechanisms gathered from across Europe during the consultation for the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation that provide cross-cutting support to participation throughout the whole decision-making process:
E-tools offer great potential for improving democratic practice and participation of an organised civil society. They can largely contribute to the transparency, accountability and responsiveness of institutions, as well as to the promotion of citizens’ engagement and to increasing empowerment and the accessibility and inclusiveness of the democratic process.
In order to fully benefit from their potential, e-tools should be integrated by all participants of the decision making, including the authorities at all levels and organised civil society.
2. Capacity-building for participation
It is essential to develop the capacity and skills of local, regional and national NGOs so that they may be actively involved in policy formulation, project development and service provision. Capacity-building can also include training seminars to improve the understanding of the reciprocal roles of NGOs and public authorities in this engagement, as well as exchange programmes to facilitate the understanding of each other’s realities.
3. Structures for cooperation between NGOs and public authorities
In order to facilitate the relationship between public authorities and NGOs, a number of countries have developed coordinating bodies. These include: government bodies such as a contact person for civil society in each ministry or a central coordination body as a single interlocutor; joint structures such as multi-stakeholder committees, work groups, expert councils and other advisory bodies (permanent or ad-hoc); or NGO alliances/coalitions which pool resources and develop joint positions.
4. Framework documents on cooperation between NGOs and public authorities
In many European countries framework agreements have been developed to outline undertakings, roles and responsibilities and procedures for cooperation. These documents lay out a clear basis for the relationship and thereby facilitate ongoing dialogue and mutual understanding between NGOs and public authorities. They include bilateral agreements with parliament or government, strategy documents for cooperation and official programmes for cooperation, adopted by public authorities.
Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-Making Process (Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 21 October 2009 at the 1068th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)
The Committee of Ministers,
Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity among its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage;
Considering the essential role of checks and balances played by NGOs in facilitating the active participation of citizens in public affairs;
Recalling the Madrid Declaration adopted at the 119th Session of the Committee of Ministers on
12 May 2009, which underlined that the development of interaction with civil society, with the help of the Conference of INGOs, remained one of the priorities of the Committee of Ministers;
Recalling that participants in the Sigtuna/Stockholm session of the Forum for the Future of Democracy in 2007 called on the Conference of INGOs to elaborate a Code of Good Practice;
Noting with satisfaction that the Conference of INGOs involved all stakeholders in the Council of Europe “Quadrilogue” in the elaboration of the Code and that the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe welcomed the Code of Good Practice;
Recognising the importance of the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation, which underpins the general principles, guidelines, tools and mechanisms for active participation of NGOs in the decision-making process, as a reference document for the Council of Europe, and as a basis for a possible further development of the framework for the empowerment of citizens to be involved in conducting public affairs in European countries,
Calls on governments, parliaments, local and regional authorities in the member states to take due account of the Code of Good Practice on Civil Participation in the Decision-Making Process, when developing NGO participation in the decision-making process and when drawing up and implementing e-tools,
capacity-building activities, structures and framework agreements for co-operation between NGOs and public authorities.
(a) Human rights defenders
Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (General Assembly resolution 53/144), Article 8
1. Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to have effective access, on a non-discriminatory basis, to participation in the government of his or her country and in the conduct of public affairs.
2. This includes, inter alia, the right, individually and in association with others, to submit to governmental bodies and agencies and organizations concerned with public affairs criticism and proposals for improving their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms
Almaty Guidelines on Promoting the Application of the Principles of the Aarhus Convention in International Forums (adopted at the second meeting of the Parties held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 25-27 May 2005)
III. GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS
11. Access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters are fundamental elements of good governance at all levels and essential for sustainability.
12. Providing international access opportunities in environmental matters, and establishing and strengthening procedures that enable the taking of these opportunities, generally improves the quality of decision-making and the implementation of decisions.
13. There may be a need to adapt and structure international processes and mechanisms in order to ensure meaningful and equitable international access.
14. In any structuring of international access, care should be taken to make or keep the processes open, in principle, to the public at large.
15. Where members of the public have differentiated capacity, resources, socio-cultural circumstances or economic or political influence, special measures should be taken to ensure a balanced and equitable process. Processes and mechanisms for international access should be designed to promote transparency, minimize inequality, avoid the exercise of undue economic or political influence, and facilitate the participation of those constituencies that are most directly affected and might not have the means for participation without encouragement and support.
16. International access should be provided without discrimination on the basis of citizenship, nationality or domicile. In the case of a legal person, international access should be provided without discrimination as to where it has its registered seat or an effective centre of its activities.
17. Capacity-building may be important to facilitate international access for the public concerned, in particular NGOs promoting environmental protection, and especially in developing countries and in countries with economies in transition.
18. Enhancing international access may imply investment of resources. If necessary, resources should, in relevant cases, be made available in the appropriate form and according to modalities to be agreed upon in each international forum concerned, in order to facilitate meaningful and equitable international access.
IV. ACCESS TO ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION
19. Each Party should encourage international forums to develop and make available to the public a clear and transparent set of policies and procedures on access to the environmental information that they hold in order to make access by the public more consistent and reliable. Such policies and procedures should enhance and facilitate both accessibility and understanding of the relevant information.
20. Environmental information contained in all official documents developed and produced within each international forum should be made available to the public through the Internet, or through other appropriate means, in a timely manner, subject to the relevant rules of each individual forum and with due regard for paragraph 25.
21. The availability of appropriate technical means for effectively rendering information accessible to the public free of charge using electronic information tools such as clearing houses, interactive databases and registers should be promoted. Where appropriate, live webcasting of events and alternative methods to reach a broader public should be considered.
22. Environmental information should be provided proactively, in a meaningful, accessible form, including, as appropriate, in the official languages of the concerned international forum, so that access to information may translate into an increase in knowledge and understanding. The designation of information officers or contact persons in international forums will facilitate the flow of information to the public and should be promoted.
23. Subject to the following paragraphs of this chapter, any member of the public should have access to environmental information developed and held in any international forum upon request, without having to state an interest.
24. When environmental information is requested by a member of the public, it should be provided as soon as possible following the request, and subject to an appropriate time limit, recalling that the time limit under the Convention is one month.
25. Requests for environmental information should be permitted to be refused only on the basis of specific grounds for refusal, taking into account the relevant provisions of the Convention, including the requirement that grounds for refusal should be interpreted in a restrictive way, taking into account the public interest in disclosure.
26. A refusal of a request, in whole or in part, should be in writing if the request was in writing or the applicant so requests and should state reasons for the refusal and give information on access to any review procedure referred to in paragraph 40.
27. Environmental information should be provided in the form requested if it exists in that form. The availability of information free of charge or, at most, at a reasonable charge should be promoted. If there is a charge, a schedule of charges should be available to the public.
V. PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN DECISION-MAKING ON ENVIRONMENTAL MATTERS
28. Public participation generally contributes to the quality of decision-making on environmental matters in international forums by bringing different opinions and expertise to the process and increasing transparency and accountability. The forms of participation might vary according to the nature and phase of the process, and the format of the meeting. Efforts should be made to proactively seek the participation of relevant actors, in a transparent, consultative manner, appropriate to the nature of the forum.
29. Participation of the public concerned in the meetings of international forums, including their subsidiary bodies and other groups established by the forums to contribute to the decisionmaking, in matters relating to the environment should be allowed at all relevant stages of the decision-making process, unless there is a reasonable basis to exclude such participation according to transparent and clearly stated standards that are made available, if possible, in advance.
30. Participation of the public concerned should be as broad as possible. In an international context, relevant stakeholders may include:
(a) The members of the public who are, or are likely to be, most directly affected;
(b) Representatives of public-interest organizations, such as environmental citizens’ organizations; and
(c) Representatives of other interests that might cause, contribute to, be affected by or be in a position to alleviate the problems under discussion.
31. While an international forum, or a process within it, should in principle be open to the participation of the public, the number of members of the public concerned participating in the meetings may be restricted if this is necessary and unavoidable for practical reasons. Any such restriction should take account of the nature and phase of the decision-making process and the form of participation sought, and should aim at ensuring the quality, efficiency and expediency of the decision-making process. Where they are applied, accreditation or selection procedures should be based on clear and objective criteria, and the public should be informed accordingly. Such procedures should be transparent, fair, timely, accountable and accessible, and aimed at securing meaningful and equitable participation, while avoiding excessive formalization. Selection criteria may include field of expertise, representation in geographic, sectoral, professional and other relevant contexts, and knowledge of the working language, having due regard for paragraphs 17 and 18.
32. The international processes should benefit from public participation from an early stage, including, at the international level, the negotiation and application of conventions; the preparation, formulation and implementation of decisions; and substantive preparation of events.
33. Effective participation of the public concerned may be ensured through a variety of forms, depending on different factors, such as the type of international forum concerned and the nature and phase of the decision-making process. Such forms could include, at meetings in international forums, observer status, advisory committees open to relevant stakeholders, forums and dialogues open to members of the public and webcasting of events, as well as general calls for comments.
34. Subject to the more specific guidance contained in other relevant paragraphs, the participation of the public concerned should include, at meetings in international forums, the entitlement to have access to all documents relevant to the decision-making process produced for the meetings, to circulate written statements and to speak at meetings, without prejudice to the ability of international forums to prioritize their business and apply their rules of procedure.
35. Public participation procedures in international forums should include reasonable time frames for the different stages, allowing sufficient time for informing the public and for the public concerned to prepare and participate effectively during the decision-making process. The timing of the opportunities to participate should be compatible with those pertaining to public access to the relevant documents, in order to facilitate informed public participation. The opportunity to participate in a given international decision-making process should be provided at a stage when options are still open and effective public influence can be exerted.
36. The public should be informed in due time of the opportunities, procedures and criteria for public participation in the decision-making and of the availability of information for the public, such as drafts for comments, final documents, decisions and reports. Such information should be provided through web sites as well as, if feasible, directly to members of the public concerned having requested to be so notified or having otherwise been identified as in need of direct communication. To preserve the quality of the decision-making process, transparent and clearly stated standards should be set regarding the provision of comments and the public should be informed accordingly.
37. In decisions, due account should be taken of the outcome of public participation. Transparency with respect to the impact of public participation on final decisions should be promoted, through, inter alia, facilitating the public availability of documents submitted by the public.
38. Decision-making processes in international forums are enhanced by the participation of an informed, knowledgeable public, representing diverse constituencies. Measures that would contribute to such participation should be recognized as important and be encouraged. Parties should consider engaging, and relevant organizations and other donors should be invited to engage, in appropriate capacity building activities, taking account of the needs and priorities identified in paragraphs 17 and 18.
39. Noting that traditional arrangements for providing financial support for travel and subsistence costs to facilitate participation in some international forums can be quite costly and thus constrain the number of people who can participate, efforts should be made to apply innovative, cost-efficient and practical approaches which are consistent with good accounting practices with a view to maximizing participation.
Riga Declaration (adopted at the third meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention held from 11 to 13 June 2008 in Riga)
We, the Ministers and heads of delegation from Parties and Signatories to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), together with representatives of other States, international, regional and non-governmental organizations, parliamentarians and other representatives of civil society from throughout the UNECE region and beyond, gathered here in Riga at the third session of the Meeting of the Parties,
Have resolved as follows:
1. We affirm our belief in the importance of the Aarhus Convention as a uniquely effective international legal instrument promoting environmental democracy; strengthening the link between the protection, preservation and improvement of the environment and human rights; and thereby contributing to sustainable and environmentally sound development.
2. We welcome the increase in the number of States that have ratified, approved, accepted or acceded to the Convention since our last meeting and encourage other States, both within and outside the UNECE region, to ratify, approve, accept or accede to it at the earliest opportunity.
3. We welcome furthermore the real and tangible progress made by many Parties to implement the Convention, as reflected in particular in the national implementation reports. In many countries throughout Europe and Central Asia, Governments have adapted their laws and are improving practices to bring them into line with the requirements of the Convention. We consider this as a major achievement.
4. We note, however, that in a significant number of countries, major challenges remain with regard to the task of fully implementing the Convention. The national implementation reports, the findings of the Compliance Committee and the outcomes of various workshops, seminars and surveys indicate that these challenges include but are not limited to the following: (a) The need to establish adequate legislative, regulatory or administrative frameworks and develop detailed procedures;
(b) The need to reduce gaps between the legal, regulatory and administrative requirements and the actual practice;
(c) The need to implement the provisions of the Convention effectively in transboundary contexts;
(d) The need for public authorities to take responsibility for the quality and level of public participation, including where developers are mandated to organize the public participation process;
(e) The need to provide for appropriate levels of discussion and feedback in the course of public participation, including where consultation is organized through electronic means;
(f) The need to ensure that members of the public, including non-governmental organizations, are afforded appropriate opportunities to participate effectively in decision-making processes, inter alia by providing for a sufficiently broad interpretation of the public concerned and establishing sufficiently broad standing criteria in the context of appeals procedures;
(g) The need to remove or reduce practical barriers to access to justice, such as financial barriers, access to legal services and lack of awareness among the judiciary.
5. We therefore commit ourselves, within our own jurisdictions or spheres of activity, to facing those challenges. In doing so, we recognize that the Convention, as an international treaty, establishes a set of standards that are designed to be achievable across a large and politically diverse region, and that achieving basic compliance with those standards, while essential, should not set a limit on our efforts. In this regard, we encourage each Party to consider going further in providing access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice than the minimum required under the Convention.
6. We also urge Parties to refrain from taking any measures which would reduce existing rights of access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental matters even where such measures would not necessarily involve any breach of the Convention.
7. We note that a small number of Parties have problems of compliance. Taking into account the non-confrontational and consultative nature of the compliance mechanism, we express the hope that the facilitation and support provided through the compliance mechanism will help those Parties to achieve full compliance. At the same time, we recognize the need to take firm action with respect to Parties that persistently fail to comply with the Convention and do not make efforts to achieve compliance.
8. The adoption of a strategic plan marks an important milestone for the Convention. Through this plan, we commit ourselves to prioritizing more effective implementation of the Convention, including through capacity-building activities, while recognizing the need to encourage more countries to become Parties to the Convention as well as the need for further work on particular themes under the Convention. Furthermore, we are convinced that the experience gained in implementing the Convention serves as a basis for further strengthening environmental democracy in sustainable development policy formulation and implementation.
9. Public access to information, as well as being a right in itself, is essential for meaningful public participation and access to justice. When properly implemented, the right to information leads on the one hand to more transparent, accountable government and on the other to a more informed, environmentally aware public. We resolve to strengthen our efforts to streamline the flow of environmental information to the public and to ensure that any use of exemptions to the release of information is kept to a minimum and is always strictly justified.
10. Electronic tools have dramatically increased the possibilities for putting environmental information in the public domain, but their potential has yet to be fully realized. Whereas increasing volumes of environmental information may be obtained through the Internet, greater use of electronic tools to facilitate public participation processes could and should be made.
11. Pollutant release and transfer registers are effective tools contributing to the prevention and reduction of pollution of the environment, promoting corporate accountability and enabling the public to know about immediate sources of pollution in their neighbourhood. We welcome the increasing number of States that have established such registers. We note the progress towards entry into force of the Kiev Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers and call upon all Signatories to the Protocol and other interested States to ratify, approve, accept or accede to it at the earliest opportunity with a view to bringing about its entry into force by the end of 2008. We also encourage prospective Parties to the Protocol to apply its provisions to the maximum extent possible pending its entry into force.
12. The Aarhus Clearinghouse for Environmental Democracy has proven itself as a leading portal to a wide range of information relevant to the themes of the Convention. We welcome the growth in both its content and usage, and encourage the secretariat and the focal points for the national nodes to continue to work with this valuable resource.
13. We recognize that procedures enabling the public to participate effectively in decision-making, whether on specific activities or on more strategic levels, lie at the heart of the Convention. Despite this, significant challenges in creating the conditions for effective participation remain, such as failure to adequately notify the public concerned, lack of early opportunities for participation, unwillingness among public authorities to take due account of comments received, insufficient expertise among the public or public authorities, and difficulties in applying public participation procedures in transboundary contexts. We recognize that there is a need to increase our activities in this area in such a way as to address these challenges. We also consider it important to engage more fully with the experts responsible for designing and facilitating public participation procedures.
14. With respect to public participation in strategic decision-making, we note the mutually reinforcing character of parts of the Aarhus Convention and the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention), and call upon Parties and other interested States to ratify and implement the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment at the earliest opportunity.
15. We acknowledge the important role that the public, and in particular environmental organizations and public interest lawyers, can play in supporting the enforcement of laws related to the environment when adequate opportunities to challenge decisions, acts and omissions through administrative or judicial review processes are provided. We encourage all Parties to create the conditions which can enhance that role, including through the establishment of sufficiently broad standing criteria, the implementation of measures aimed at overcoming financial or other obstacles, and support for public interest environmental law non-governmental organizations.
16. The emergence of genetic engineering is one of the major technological developments of the modern era, with significant implications for the environment. Given the high level of public interest in the topic and the need for rational and informed debate, establishing balanced procedures to facilitate effective public participation in decision-making in this field is of paramount importance. In this regard, we note the progress towards entry into force of the amendment on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that was adopted by consensus at our second session in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and encourage all Parties that have not done so to ratify, approve or accept the amendment with a view to bringing about its entry into force by early 2009. We also encourage Parties to apply the provisions of the amendment to the maximum extent possible pending its entry into force. We recognize the value of further collaboration with the bodies of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in activities aimed at supporting the application of the Lucca Guidelines on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice with respect to GMOs and the implementation of the Almaty amendment on GMOs.
17. We welcome the work done to consult widely with international forums on the subject of the Almaty Guidelines on promoting the application of the principles of the Aarhus Convention in international forums, which has led to greater awareness of both the Convention and the Almaty Guidelines. We affirm our commitment to promoting and applying the Guidelines and recognize that more emphasis needs to be given to consultations within governments so as to ensure that the Guidelines are applied consistently by all branches of government. We also affirm that the processes under the Convention itself, as well as those under the Meeting of the Parties to the Kiev Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, once it is established, should be a model for the application of the Almaty Guidelines.
18. We recognize the importance of measures to raise awareness and build capacity both within public authorities and the judiciary and among those seeking to exercise their rights under the Convention, notably non-governmental organizations. We call on the donor community to increase its support for capacity-building programmes and projects aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Convention. We welcome the emergence of “Aarhus Centres” in several countries and encourage their development in more countries.
19. We welcome the constructive role that representatives of civil society and in particular environmental organizations continue to play in supporting the implementation of the Convention, including through awareness-raising and capacity-building, through providing input to the compliance and reporting mechanisms and through participation in the Bureau.
20. The support provided by international and regional organizations, including the regional environmental centres, has also been crucial to the successes achieved in promoting more effective implementation of the Convention and will remain crucial in facing the challenges ahead. We welcome the efforts of the secretariat to coordinate relevant capacity-building activities of international and regional organizations through the capacity-building coordination framework, and invite all those involved to continue to collaborate within this framework so as to achieve synergies and optimize the use of resources.
21. The Convention’s compliance and reporting mechanisms have provided essential information on the extent to which the objective and principles of the Convention have become a reality on the ground and on the problems that remain. We note that the public involvement in those mechanisms has enriched them, increased the sense of broad ownership of the Convention and helped to expose problems with regard to implementation and compliance which would otherwise not necessarily have come to light.
22. The Implementation Guide to the Convention has provided a valuable source of guidance on the text of the Convention. Since it was published in 2000, experience with the implementation of the Convention has accumulated, both within the Parties and through the compliance and reporting mechanisms. In addition, the amendment on genetically modified organisms and various sets of recommendations and guidance have been adopted by the Meeting of the Parties. These combined factors point to the possible need for an updated version of the Implementation Guide to be produced during the coming intersessional period.
23. Recalling decision II/9, we reiterate the invitation to States outside the UNECE region to accede to the Convention where it suits their particular circumstances, and reaffirm our willingness to support the promotion of principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development at the global level and in countries outside the UNECE region.
24. While the Convention has promoted more democratic values and practices in the environmental field, it can and should serve as an inspiration for promoting greater transparency and accountability in all spheres of government. In this regard, we express our willingness to share the experiences gained with promoting access to information, public participation and access to justice in the environmental fields with those promoting these values in other fields as an essential contribution to sustainable development.
25. We commit ourselves to maintaining the open and participatory character of the processes under the Convention, working in partnership with a wide range of actors as we move forward to achieve our common goals.
European Charter on the Statute for Judges, Article 1.8
1.8. Judges are associated through their representatives and their professional organizations in decisions relating to the administration of the courts and as to the determination of their means, and their allocation at a national and local level. They are consulted in the same manner over plans to modify their statute, and over the determination of the terms of their remuneration and of their social welfare.
[1.8 The Charter provides that judges should be associated through their representatives, particularly those that are members of the authority referred to in paragraph 1.3, and through their professional associations, with any decisions taken on the administration of the courts, the determination of the courts’ budgetary resources and the implementation of such decisions at the local and national levels. Without advocating any specific legal form or degree of constraint, this provision lays down that judges should be associated in the determination of the overall judicial budget and the resources earmarked for individual courts, which implies establishing consultation or representation procedures at the national and local levels. This also applies more broadly to the administration of justice and of the courts. The Charter does not stipulate that judges should be responsible for such administration, but it does require them not to be left out of administrative decisions. Consultation of judges by their representatives or professional associations on any proposed change in their statute or any change proposed as to the basis on which they are remunerated, or as to their social welfare, including their retirement pension, should ensure that judges are not left out of the decision-making process in these fields. Nevertheless, the Charter does not authorise encroachment on the decision-making powers vested in the national bodies responsible for such matters under the Constitution.]
(d) National minorities
The Lund Recommendations on the Effective Participation of National Minorities in Public Life
D. Advisory and Consultative Bodies
12) States should establish advisory or consultative bodies within appropriate institutional frameworks to serve as channels for dialogue between governmental authorities and national minorities. Such bodies might also include special purpose committees for addressing such issues as housing, land, education, language, and culture. The composition of such bodies should reflect their purpose and contribute to more effective communication and advancement of minority interests.
13) These bodies should be able to raise issues with decisionmakers, prepare recommendations, formulate legislative and other proposals, monitor developments and provide views on proposed governmental decisions that may directly or indirectly affect minorities. Governmental authorities should consult these bodies regularly regarding minority-related legislation and administrative measures in order to contribute to the satisfaction of minority concerns and to the building of confidence. The effective functioning of these bodies will require that they have adequate resources.
D. Advisory and Consultative Bodies
12) Paragraph 24 of Part VI of the Helsinki Document commits OSCE participating States "to ensure the free exercise by persons belonging to national minorities, individually or in community with others, of their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to participate fully [...] in the political [...] life of their countries including through democratic participation in [...] consultative bodies at the national, regional, and local level". Such bodies can be standing or ad hoc, part of or attached to the legislative or executive branch or independent therefrom. Committees attached to parliamentary bodies, such as minority round tables, are known in several OSCE participating States. They can and do function at all levels of government, including self-government arrangements. In order to be effective, these bodies should be composed of minority representatives and others who can offer special expertise, provided with adequate resources, and given serious attention by decisionmakers. Aside from advice and counsel, such bodies can constitute a useful intermediary institution between decisionmakers and minority groups. They can also stimulate action at the level of government and among minority communities. Such bodies may also perform specific tasks related to the implementation of programs, e.g. in the field of education. In addition, special purpose committees may hold particular significance for certain minorities who should be represented therein.
13) The possibilities for constructive use of such bodies vary with the situations. However, in all cases, good governance requires positive steps on the part of the authorities to engage established advisory and consultative bodies, to refer to them as needs may arise and to invite their in-put. An open and inclusive approach on the part of the authorities vis-à-vis these bodies and their members will contribute to better decisions and to greater confidence of the wider society.
Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, Articles 2 and 3
1. Persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities (hereinafter referred to as persons belonging to minorities) have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or any form of discrimination.
2. Persons belonging to minorities have the right to participate effectively in cultural, religious, social, economic and public life.
3. Persons belonging to minorities have the right to participate effectively in decisions on the national and, where appropriate, regional level concerning the minority to which they belong or the regions in which they live, in a manner not incompatible with national legislation.
4. Persons belonging to minorities have the right to establish and maintain their own associations.
5. Persons belonging to minorities have the right to establish and maintain, without any discrimination, free and peaceful contacts with other members of their group and with persons belonging to other minorities, as well as contacts across frontiers with citizens of other States to whom they are related by national or ethnic, religious or linguistic ties.
1. Persons belonging to minorities may exercise their rights, including those set forth in the present Declaration, individually as well as in community with other members of their group, without any discrimination.
2. No disadvantage shall result for any person belonging to a minority as the consequence of the exercise or non-exercise of the rights set forth in the present Declaration.
Full texts of major international standards
Full texts of major international standards
Council of Europe
European Charter on the Statute for Judges
Full texts of major international standards
Council of the UE
Full texts of major international standards
OSCE Riga Declaration