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Second Meeting of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee
Geneva, 18-19 September 2003
Agenda Item 7
AARHUS CONVENTION COMPLIANCE COMMITTEE
The NGOs and the Compliance Committee
Part A of this paper was formerly included as a section in an informal discussion paper on
information gathering and on-the-spot appraisals, prepared by the secretariat and updated in
light of the discussion at the meeting. Part B was based on an informal paper prepared by
Earthjustice (an NGO with consultative status to ECOSOC) and has not yet been discussed in
any detail by the Committee.
Part A: Cooperation with the NGO community
1.
Further to the request of the Committee at its first meeting, some issues related to
cooperation with the NGO community, both in the context of information gathering and more
generally, are considered below.
2.
In general terms, the Committee is not required to make any distinction between
information submitted to it by individuals and States and information submitted by NGOs.
Paragraph 25 of decision I/7 clearly states that the Committee may ‘consider any relevant
information submitted to it” without making any attempt to distinguish with respect to the
sources of that information. Furthermore, the ‘experts and advisers’ whose services the
Committee may seek could well be persons who have obtained their expertise through work
within the NGO community.
3.
Although information gathering thus includes sources of NGOs in general terms, there
might still be room for considering more specific, not to say formalised, cooperation with the
community of NGOs. This would also recognize the fact that the task of the Committee will
be very difficult without the input and the knowledge of the NGO community. Some simple
suggestions come to mind.
(a)
Special sessions with NGOs
The Human Rights Committee reserves part of its session to listen to NGOs and to discuss
issues on the agenda for that session. This is considered necessary, as NGOs do not have the
right to ask for the floor during the sessions of the Committee. At this stage, it might not be
necessary for the Compliance Committee to take such a step because it has agreed that its
sessions should generally be open to the public, but it could be useful for the Committee to
invite representative(s) of those international NGOs being present at the meeting to raise, at
the beginning of each session, compliance issues for general consideration by the Committee.
The possibility of having to provide financial support in order to facilitate the presence of
NGOs might need to be considered at some point.
(b)
Consultations on drafts
The Committee could consider sending draft findings, measures and recommendations to
appropriate national NGOs, if such exist, as well as to the Party concerned and the member of
the public as required by decision I/7, annex, paragraph 34.
(c)
Implementation of measures
It would probably be useful if the Committee would be able to invite organizations such as the
intergovernmental organizations, regional environmental centres and NGOs to assist a
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Second Meeting of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee
Geneva, 18-19 September 2003
Agenda Item 7
specific country in the implementation of any recommended measures. A number of these
organizations have a lot of experience with implementation of the Convention and would be
able to provide expert assistance in this field.
4.
There are probably many other ways and means to cooperate with the community of
NGOs, so this list is only meant as inspiration for the Committee. The Committee may be able
to learn more from some of the other human rights committees during its meeting.
5.
Some consideration should be given to the fact that the community of NGOs is not
always highly formalised and fixed and that NGOs might have different opinions amongst
themselves. The European ECO Forum is a good starting point for NGO cooperation but there
may be others with whom cooperation should be explored, e.g. in relation to issues
concerning the Parties from the most eastern part of the region. For the time being, there seem
to be no other NGO networks with a similar representativity and expertise related to the
Convention. Some of the members of the Committee might have good links to NGOs that
could provide useful input to the work of the Committee.
Part B: The Aarhus Committee and the NGOs
1.
The fundamental role played by NGOs in the drafting of the Convention, as well as the
one they play now in implementing its three pillars, is acknowledged in § 4 and 5 of article 2
of the Convention, as well as in the following articles referring to it.
2.
There are no such references in Decision I/7 on reviewing the implementation. This is
due to the particular mechanism of the Aarhus Committee, which reviews the implementation
mainly on the basis of communications. Under the conditions of § 18 of the Decision, NGOs
can trigger the Committee like any member of the public.
3.
But it would be incorrect to limit the relation between the Committee and the NGOs to
these conditions. Due to the multiple roles played by civil society organisations, they can
bring much more to the Committee than just communications on individual situations. Under
§ 25 of the Decision, NGOs can respond with a wide diversity of contributions to the needs of
the Committee.
4.
The Committee has a particular interest to develop different ways in which NGOs can
contribute to its work.
Committees to other Conventions
5.
The practice of other Committees in the field of international human rights law can
give useful lessons. But it must be underlined that these other Committees are mandated first
to review the periodic reports of the State-Parties and, in a constructive dialogue, to make
recommendations. Receiving individual communications is only a second mandate, and only
when States have recognised such an authority to the Committee. Such a difference has
practical consequences.
6.
The proposals listed below are not intended as a complete list of the possible NGO
contributions to the work of the Committee. The first ones will be the contributions to the
examinations of communications. The proposals are just possible measures the Committee
may wish to take as it develops its procedures and functioning.
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Second Meeting of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee
Geneva, 18-19 September 2003
Agenda Item 7
Public Sessions
7.
Of course, having open public sessions, as was decided at the first meeting, is
fundamental. It promotes transparency and thus access to information and participation, as
requested by the Convention. It will help NGOs to follow the work of the Committee and
acquire a better understanding of its role and jurisprudence.
Official registration of contributions
8.
Beside the communications on compliance, the Committee will certainly receive
different information, positions and requests. It is important for transparency that these
contributions, from NGO and members of the public, be openly and officially registered. This
helps to spread the information and gives a chance to everyone to participate in the discussion
with the same level of knowledge.
9.
This point must not be underestimated. The Human Rights Committees, which cannot
provide such registration, have to deal only informally with this information. Therefore
questions are asked to some countries on the basis of documents received privately by some
Committee Members, without any possibility of transparency.
Time for open discussions
10.
In order to be able to follow the debates relevant to the themes falling under the
Committee’s jurisdiction, it will be useful to have, on an official and regular basis, time
devoted to receiving contributions without any link to the on-going communication
procedures.
11.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights opens the first afternoon of
its sessions to such contributions. It gives the possibility for issues to be brought to the
attention of the Committee, on which work may subsequently be carried out.
Possible review of country situations
12.
Considering the nature, the number or the repetition of some communications, or
following a request of the Meeting of the Parties, the Committee might need to review the
general situation in a country. In such a case, it is important that the Committee benefits from
a wide range of sources. Therefore such sessions must be announced widely and on a timely
basis.
13.
Receiving information on country situations is a priority need for the Committees
operating under the Conventions in the field of human rights law, as they review the Parties’
periodic reports. Depending on the provisions of the convention, they formally or informally
integrate such “hearings” for NGOs and other sources.
Interpretation of the Convention
14.
Due to its mandate, the Committee will have to develop some interpretation for some
provisions of the Convention as well as a jurisprudence (this was discussed at the first
meeting under agenda item 8), in order to make recommendation following communications
or to answer to requests of the Meeting of the Parties. It is important that such developments
do not emerge all of a sudden, but are prepared by a rich discussion. The Committee has the
task to anticipate such discussions so that its decisions are strengthened by the wide scope of
participation in the debate that will have led to it.
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Second Meeting of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee
Geneva, 18-19 September 2003
Agenda Item 7
15.
The jurisprudence of the Committees under the human rights conventions has been
strongly developed over the last years, under the form of “general observations”. It has proven
to be very useful for States who then have a sharper definition of some rights and obligations,
based on a wide experience and expertise.
16.
All these proposals are indicative. Practice will enrich the possibilities and ways for
NGOs to contribute to the work of the Aarhus Committee and answer to its needs.
4
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