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Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee Adopts a Statement of Non-Restrictions on the Rights of the Aarhus Convention in the context of COVID-19 Pandemic

Sunday, 01 November 2020
The Compliance Committee to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) held its 67th Meeting from 6 to 10 July 2020. The Meeting was held virtually due to restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. During the open session that took place on 6 July 2020, the  Committee emphasized the need to adopt a concise statement in view of COVID-19 impact on the environmental democracy. Following its 67th Meeting, the Aarhus Compliance Committee released a statement on the application of the Aarhus Convention both during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the subsequent phase of economic recovery on 2 September 2020.

Throughout the statement, the Compliance Committee expressed its deep concern that Parties may attempt to justify restrictions on the rights guaranteed under the Convention by reference to the COVID-19 pandemic or the need for a rapid economic recovery due to the consequences of the pandemic. Faced with this possible scenario, the Committee made clear that, even in a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recovery phase, the binding rights in the Convention cannot be reduced or curtailed. In this vein, the Committee clarified that in case that the established practices for ensuring access to information, public participation in decision-making or access to justice in environmental matters cannot be used, any alternative means must fulfil the requirements of the Convention. 

Finally, it is to be noted that the Compliance Committee welcomed the constructive approach taken by some Parties in exploring ways to ensure that the Convention’s requirements are met during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also encouraged the Parties to seek advice from the Committee if needed. Besides, the Compliance Committee also reminded the Parties that any shortcoming in ensuring effective access to information, public participation in decision-making or access to justice under the Convention during the COVID-19 pandemic or in the subsequent economic recovery phase may be subject to challenge by members of the public in accordance with the provisions of article 9 of the Convention. Similarly, any shortcoming may also be subject to communications, submissions and referrals to the Committee in accordance with decision I/7 of the Meeting of the Parties.

Sources: UNECE
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