Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee

The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee

The UNECE Aarhus Convention provides for Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The Convention was adopted in June 1998 is unique in many ways. The Aarhus Convention is the first international treaty with the purpose of granting rights directly to the public with regard to protection of the environment. Its focus is not the protection of the environment per se but the procedural rights of civil society to participate in decision-making that relates to environmental matters. The Convention links environmental rights and human rights and also recognises the right to a healthy environment for every individual.

What is unique about the Aarhus Convention is its Compliance Committee (ACCC). Article 15 of the Aarhus Convention requires the Meeting of the Parties to establish arrangements for reviewing compliance with the Convention. For that purpose a “ComplianceCommittee” has been mandated to discuss and decide on possible violations of the Convention. Not only is the compliance committee important in itself, but the possibility for the public (individuals, NGOs etc) to directly report possible violations of the Convention to the committee is unique in international environmental law. Full information about the ACCC and its work, including  information on the compliance cases, is at www.unece.org/env/pp/compliance.htm

Who are the members of the Committee? The ACCC has nine members. Currently the chair person is Mr. Jonas Ebbesson (Sweden), and the vice chair person is Mr. Alexander Kodjabashev (Bulgaria). Other members are:

  • Mr. Jerzy Jendroska (Poland),
  • Mr. Pavel Černý (Czech Republic),
  • Mr. Ion Diaconu (Romania),
  • Ms. Heghine Hakhverdyan (Armenia),
  • Ms. Elena Fasoli (Italy)
  • Ms. Dana Zhandaeva (Kazakhstan) and
  • Mr. Alistair McGlone (United Kingdom)

Several of these people have had long associations with the Convention and even took part in the negotiations. All of Committee members serve in their personal capacity (not representing any country) but are nominated by Parties and, partly, NGOs (via European ECO Forum).

Who can approach the Committee? Any individual or group of individuals (including an NGO) can approach the Committee,even regarding another country (i.e. not the country of residence/citizenship) as long as it is aParty to the Convention. This is called “public trigger”. A “communication” is submitted to the Committee explaining why you think a specific country is in non-compliance with the Convention. In addition, a Party to the Convention may make a submission about another Party or about its own compliance. The Secretariat of the Convention may also make a referral to the Committee.

What are the powers of the ACCC?

The Committee may:

a) find that a Party is compliant with the Convention in a specific case;

b) find that a Party is in non-compliance with the Convention in a specific case (such as a nunjustified refusal to supply environmental information);

c) find that the Party is generally in non-compliance with the Convention (regarding specific obligations). For example in one case the Committee found that a country had failed to establish a clear, transparent and consistent framework to implement public participation procedures required under the Convention;

d) develop recommendations and other measures to be adopted by the Meeting of the Parties. If a Party agrees, the Committee can directly provide such recommendations (and take some other soft measures). The Committee has already practice of giving such recommendations.

The Meeting of the Parties of the Convention (MOP) has the highest power in the compliance procedure. It adopts the Committee’s findings and measures. It is only the MOP who can take hard measures regarding a country, including declarations of non-compliance, cautions, and suspension of a country’s participation in the treaty. So far the MOP has has issued two cautions (Ukraine, Turkmenistan).

What are the procedural steps at the ACCC?

Communication
Firstly, members of the public (individuals, NGOs) have to submit a communication to the Committee that states why the communicant claims a Party (a country or the European Community) is in non-compliance with the Convention. The communication should relate to a country that is Party to the Convention and address facts that happened after the Convention entered into force for that country. In addition, the communication should be submitted at least one year after the entry in force of the Convention for the party concerned by communication.

Admissibility
Once the Committee has received the communication it preliminarily determines whether the communication fulfils the procedural requirements, for example, checking that the Conventionhas already entered into force for that country and that the complaint sufficiently refers to subject matters of the Convention. Thus there are two possibilities for the Committee to decide: admissible or inadmissible. The preliminary admissibility decision is done very quickly by the Committee, usually in the first meeting after the communication was submitted, even if there are only few days between decision and meeting.

Discussion at Committee meeting
If the communication is admissible the case goes onto the agenda of a future ACCC meeting.The communicant and the concerned party may participate in the meeting and the discussions. If additional information is needed the Committee can ask both the party and the communicant to provide this. More complicated cases may be discussed by the Committee at more than one meeting. Anyone can participate in the meetings of the Committee (as observer) and even speak. The only exception is the very latest stage of developing findings and recommendations when the meeting is closed to all except the Committee.

Recommendations by the Committee
If a case is ready for decision the Committee prepares a draft recommendation. The party and the communicant may comment on the draft. If there are no substantive comments on the draft recommendation, it can be adopted as final in a future meeting, otherwise further consideration of the case can follow.

Communication to the Parties
The final recommendation is communicated to the Parties to the Convention. These may adopt the findings of the Committee and may take measures against a specific country as noted above.

How much time does the Committee need to decide?

The Committee takes relatively quick decisions as compared to national litigation and international arbitration cases. The average time between the date of an initial communicationand the final conclusions of the Committee is 389 days (at end of November 2006; see Veit Koester: The Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention, in Environmental Policy and Law, 37/2-3 (2007), page 83 for details). The ACCC meets, on average, four times a year. It had its first meeting in March 2003 and became operational with regard to communications in October 2003. Information about the Committee meetings is available at www.unece.org/env/pp/ccmeetings.html 

How many communications have been submitted to the Committee until now?

Until end of May 2015 more than one hundred twenty communication (cases) had been submitted to the Committee by public.  The Committee received two submissions from the Parties (Romania concering Ukaine and Lithuania concerning Belarus) and no referrals by the secretariat.  For all information, including copies of correspondence and reports of ACCC meetings, please refer to the official web site:www.unece.org/env/pp. 

You can read more about the Compliance mechanism of the Aarhus Convention in the Guidance Document prepared by the UNECE.

The European ECO Forum has prepared two editions of the Case Law of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (2008 and 2011) with the third edition under the preparation in 2015.

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