At the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the United Nations Economic
Commission for Europe (UNECE), in cooperation with the Regional Environmental
Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) and the North-South Centre of
the Council of Europe, organized a side event on "Participatory democracy
and good governance as fundamental tools for a human rights approach to sustainable
development". The event took place on Monday, 26 August 2002, from 1.15
to 2.45 pm, in the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.
The side event, which was chaired by Ms. Brigita Schmögnerová,
UNECE Executive Secretary, focussed on strengthening environmental rights
and their contribution to sustainable development within the framework of
good governance and respect for human rights. It thereby aimed to promote
the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (in particular
principle 10 on access to information, public participation in decision-making
and access to justice) and to integrate social and economic development and
A panel of distinguished speakers, comprising Ministers, parliamentarians
and representatives of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations
from different regions, took part in the event. The discussions highlighted
the importance of an integrated approach to sustainable development and provided
an opportunity for participants from different regions to exchange information
and perspectives on how the principles of environmental democracy, human rights
and good governance in sustainable development may be put into practice. There
was a common recognition of the importance of good governance, respect for
human rights and involvement of civil society in the process of moving towards
In her opening remarks, the UNECE Executive Secretary emphasised that without
active civil society involvement, sustainable development would be unattainable.
She noted that in this regard, great strides had been made in the ECE region
since the Rio conference, notably through the adoption and entry into force
of the Aarhus Convention1. While other regions might wish to consider developing
their own instruments promoting environmental democracy, the Aarhus Convention
could serve as a useful model or reference point in that context. To this
end, UNECE would be willing to share with other regions the experience gained
through developing the Aarhus Convention.
Ms. Cheryl Gillwald, Deputy Minister for Justice, South Africa, welcomed
the participants on behalf of the host country, mentioning that South Africa's
bill of rights includes environmental rights. Stressing the need for an integrated
and incremental approach, she highlighted the importance of addressing inequality
and tackling poverty in order to bridge the gap between ambitious human rights
goals and delivery on the ground.
Mr. Božo Kovacevic, Croatian Minister of Environmental Protection and Physical
Planning, explained that a wide range of instruments was needed to achieve
good governance goals. Croatia was working towards ratification of the Aarhus
Convention and expected to be in a position to ratify in approximately one
Mr. Víctor Lichtinger, Mexican Minister of Environment and Natural
Resources, described recent and ongoing steps to strengthen the legal framework
governing access to environmental information in Mexico. He highlighted the
importance of distinguishing between law and practice, noting that capacity
building was of great importance and that significant costs may be involved
in guaranteeing access to information and public participation. He called
for cooperation mechanisms to facilitate implementation of existing legislation
in developing countries.
Mr. Olivier Deleuze, Secretary of State for Energy and Sustainable Development,
Belgium, noted that recognition of the link between human rights and the environment
could be traced back to the Stockholm conference in 1972. He described the
participatory process that had been used to formulate a federal plan for sustainable
development in Belgium.
Ms. Gabriella Dragoni Battaini, Director-General, General Directorate for
Social Cohesion, Council of Europe, introduced a political message from the
Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to the WSSD, which promoted
a human rights-based approach to sustainable development. She described the
Council's efforts to develop legal instruments relevant to the topic, including
laws to combat corruption.
Prof. Svitlana Kravchenko, European ECO Forum, referred to the importance
of the Aarhus Convention to civil society in the ECE region. She described
the unique role that civil society organizations had played and continued
to play in the development and implementation of the Convention. It was expected
that the compliance mechanism being developed under the Convention would be
accessible to the public.
Mr. Alexander Juras, Deputy Executive Director, REC, outlined a number of
preconditions for good governance, including new and independent institutions,
internationally binding agreements, and the recognition of a fundamental human
right to good governance. He described the tremendous impact which the Aarhus
Convention had had in Central and Eastern Europe, a region in which the dismantling
of decades of authoritarian rule had brought the issues of environmental protection
and participatory democracy into sharp focus.
Mr. Shafqat Kakakhel, Deputy Executive Director, UNEP, outlined UNEP's efforts
to identify mechanisms for the implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration
and stressed the need for capacity-building to back up the adoption of legislation.
He described the Aarhus Convention as the most the spectacular example of
the realisation of Principle 10 and pledged to continue the close co-operation
between UNEP and the Convention secretariat, as well as to strengthen the
co-operation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on
exploring the linkages between human rights and environmental protection.
Prof. Ben Turok, Member of Parliament (Committees on Finances, Trade and
Industry), South Africa, spelled out the complexities in addressing good governance
in South Africa, including the need to create new institutions and reform
public services. He expressed concern that the current global order would
remain exploitative and unequal, and called for greater equality and respect
for human rights.
Mr. Alan Meale, Member of Parliament, United Kingdom, representing the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe, underlined the success of the European
Union in enabling democratic processes and implementing Agenda 21. He stressed
the need to further engage the public in decision-making.
During the discussion, participants described relevant activities in countries
such as Yugoslavia, Israel, Pakistan, Morocco and Moldova, as well as relevant
international projects and activities such as the Access Initiative, the UNEP-funded
assessment of the global implementation of principle 10 of the Rio Declaration
undertaken by the European ECO Forum and work being undertaken within the
framework of the Commission on Human Rights. A representative of the UN Economic
and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific region informed the meeting
of the proposed guidelines on access to information, public participation
and access to justice for that region, to be developed with the support of
Closing the packed meeting, the Chair noted the broad support for better
governance, more respect for citizens' environmental rights and greater involvement
of civil society and urged further co-operation to this end.
For further information, please contact:
Mr. Jeremy Wates, Secretary to the Aarhus Convention
Environment and Human Settlements Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Palais des Nations
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Phone: +41(0)22 917 23 84
Fax: +41(0)22 907 01 07
Web site: www.unece.org/env/pp
1 The UNECE Convention on Access to Information,
Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental
Matters was adopted in Aarhus, Denmark, in June 1998 and entered into force
in October 2001. It has been described by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
as 'the most ambitious venture in environmental democracy undertaken under
the auspices of the United Nations [whose] adoption was a remarkable step
forward in the development of international law'.