History shows that the most important social changes are achieved from the bottom up, rather than the top down.
Each member of society has the right to know about the real state of the environment. Whether shop staff, businesspeople, waiters, bus drivers, teachers or students, we are all profoundly affected by the environment in which we live and work.
If you are concerned about the possible environmental and health impacts of an industrial enterprise in your neighbourhood, you are entitled to obtain relevant information. You also have the right to participate in decision making on issues related to the environment.
In 1998, in recognition of the strong links between environmental concerns and human rights, the governments of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe adopted the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The convention is commonly known as the Aarhus Convention, after the Danish city in which it was signed. Via its three pillars, the agreement strengthens the relationship between civil society and governments by establishing the following rights for citizens:
The Aarhus Convention was signed by the Republic of Belarus and approved by presidential decree in 1999. It entered into force on October 30, 2001.
The Law on Normative Legal Acts of the Republic of Belarus states that "the rules of law contained in international treaties of the Republic of Belarus that have entered into force become active on the territory of the Republic of Belarus, are directly applicable, and have the force of the legal act expressing the consent of the Republic of Belarus to be bound by the relevant international treaty." The provisions of the Aarhus Convention are therefore part of the national legislation of Belarus and must be applied by all law enforcement officials and agencies.
As an international agreement on protecting the interests of civil society and promoting the active participation of citizens, the Aarhus Convention aims to create conditions for democracy. It acknowledges the right of the public, both in the present and in future generations, to live in a healthy environment and is therefore an important tool for the implementation of environmental policy.
Citizens in a democratic society have the right of access to information. The right to know is fundamental to democratic participation in governance and to an individual’s right to a healthy environment.
Environmental information includes information on:
Citizens have the following fundamental rights to
Access to environmental information in Belarus
The following legal acts govern access to environmental information in Belarus:
the Republic of Belarus of March 15, 1994, No. 2875-XII — Article 34 states that:
Law of the Republic of Belarus of November 26, 1992, No. 1982-XII on Environmental Protection — Article 12, on the rights and duties of citizens in relation to environmental protection, states that:
Law of the Republic of Belarus of July 17, 2008, No. 427-Z on Mass Media — Article 36 on the right to receive, store and disseminate information states that:
Law of the
Republic of Belarus of July 30, 2008, No. 426-W on the Use of
Atomic Energy — Article 39 on the
rights of individuals and organisations to receive information states that:
Presidential Decree of December 30, 2010, No. 712, on Improving the State System of Legal Information of the Republic of Belarus (along with the Regulations on the Dissemination of Legal Information in the Republic of Belarus) — According to Chapter 2:
Law of the Republic of Belarus of November 10, 2008, No. 455-Z, on Information and Information Protection — Chapter 3, on the right to information, states that:
Democracy in the 21st century means more than merely participating in elections. It also means that governments must consult with citizens on projects, specific activities, plans, programmes, and even policies and draft laws before making decisions. The Aarhus Convention provides clear guidance on public participation and participatory democracy — that is, on how to involve the public in a wide range of decision-making areas that have a significant potential impact on the environment, such as road construction, industry, mining, oil and gas refining and the construction of nuclear power stations.
Citizens should participate in decisions concerning any activity that may have a significant impact on the environment, from quarrying to intensive pig or poultry farming; and any individual that may be affected by a decision-making process has the right to participate in it. Informing the public in the early stages can help legislators and government officials to avoid making important mistakes. If citizens are aware of all the available options, they can influence decisions in such a way that the interests of all parties are taken into account. However, in order to participate effectively, citizens must have sufficient time to prepare.
The public should be given information on:
One form of public hearing is a meeting between members of the public, developers and decision makers, during which citizens can ask questions and express their opinions, or provide decision makers with information, analysis, comments, suggestions and arguments. Citizens may also submit written documents and proposals. The authorities should give due consideration to the results of a public hearing.
Draft versions of regulations and other legally binding instruments must be published or made available to the public. The public must have an opportunity to comment, either directly or through a representative consultative body. The results of this process should be taken into account to the greatest possible extent. Laws or regulations are often made available on websites for comments, and the authorities may also offer opportunities for comments and suggestions during public meetings or hearings.
Public participation should be adequate, timely and effective. As a party to the Aarhus Convention, the Republic of Belarus must provide opportunities for public participation at an early stage of decision making concerning activities that may have a significant environmental impact.
The fundamental principles of public participation in environmental decision making are as follows:
Public participation in environmental decision making in Belarus
The following legal acts are relevant to public participation in environmental decision making in Belarus:
the Republic of Belarus of March 15, 1994, No. 2875-XII — According to the Constitution:
Law of the Republic of Belarus of November 26, 1992, No. 1982-XII, on Environmental Protection — Article 12 states that citizens have the right to:
Law of the Republic of Belarus of June 14, 2003, No. 205, on Flora — Article 16 concerns the participation of citizens, public associations and bodies of the territorial self-government in public decision making related to the management of flora.
Law of the Republic of Belarus of July 10, 2007, No. 257-W, on Wildlife — Article 13 concerns the participation of citizens, public associations and bodies of the territorial self-government in the implementation of state regulations for the management of the protection and use of wildlife.
Law of the Republic of Belarus of October 20, 1994, No. 3335-XII, on Specially Protected Nature Territories — Article 16 concerns the participation of citizens and civil society organisations (associations) in matters related to nature protected areas.
Law of the Republic of Belarus of July 30, 2008, No. 426-W, on the Use of Atomic Energy — Article 40 concerns the rights of citizens and organisations to participate in policy making in the field of nuclear energy.
As well as recognising the public's right to information and right to participate in decision making on environmental matters, the Aarhus Convention supports citizens in
exercising their rights through recourse to a court of law or other
independent and impartial administrative review procedures.
All individuals, organisations, government officials and businesses have the right to access to justice — that is, the right to go to court (or similar institution) to protect their environmental rights.
Public access to justice in environmental matters in Belarus
Access to justice in environmental matters is covered by the following legal acts in Belarus:
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the United Nations in New York as Resolution 2200A (XXI) of the General Assembly, on December 16, 1966 — According to Article 14, all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against them, or of their rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.
the Republic of Belarus of March 15, 1994, No. 2875-XII — According to the Constitution: