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Right to know and participate

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 right to comprehensive and reliable environmental information;
  • the right to participate in decision making on environmental matters; and
  • the right of access to justice in environmental matters.


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:

  • the state of the basic environmental elements such as water, air and soil;
  • biodiversity, including genetically modified organisms;
  • substances, noise and radiation, activities or measures, environmental agreements, policies, legislation, plans and programmes that affect or are likely to affect the environment, and economic analyses and assumptions used in environmental decision making; and
  • safety and human health, the conditions for human life, as well as cultural sites and buildings that are vulnerable to environmental impacts.


Citizens have the following fundamental rights to environmental information:

  • Anyone can request information without being required to show evidence of personal interest.
  • Governmental agencies or public authorities must maintain, collect, update and disseminate environmental information. This is primarily the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Health and other similar bodies that may have relevant information.
  • Citizens may submit a request for information to any authorised official or agency in possession of environmental information.
  • Public authorities must respond to requests made by members of the public. Regional and local authorities are obliged to provide information on request. Private non-governmental bodies performing public functions must also provide information.
  • A response must be provided as soon as possible. Government authorities must reply no later than one month after a request has been submitted. This period may be extended if it is justified by the size and/or complexity of the request, but should not exceed two months.
  • Information held in public records, registers and files should be provided free of charge.


Access to environmental information in Belarus

The following legal acts govern access to environmental information in Belarus:

Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of March 15, 1994, No. 2875-XII — Article 34 states that:

  • Citizens of the Republic of Belarus shall be guaranteed the right to receive, store and disseminate complete, reliable and timely information on the activities of state bodies and public associations; political, economic, cultural and international affairs; and the environment. State bodies, public associations and officials shall afford citizens of the Republic of Belarus the opportunity to learn about the material that affects their rights and legitimate interests.
  • The use of information may be restricted by law in order to protect the honour, dignity, personal and family life of citizens and the full exercise of their rights.


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:

  • Every citizen has the right to a healthy environment and to compensation for damages caused by the violation of this right, as well as to receive, store and disseminate complete, reliable and timely environmental information.


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:

  • Individuals are guaranteed the right to receive, store and disseminate complete, reliable and timely information on the activities of state bodies, political parties and other public associations and other legal entities; and on political, economic, cultural and international affairs [concerning] the environment.


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:

  • Individuals, public associations and other organisations shall have the right to request and obtain from state agencies and organisations information on the safety of nuclear installations and/or storage facilities that are scheduled for construction or being planned, constructed, operated or decommissioned, with the exception of information that is a state secret and information the dissemination or disclosure of which is restricted. Information on a radiation accident must not be categorised as a state secret or as information the dissemination or disclosure of which is restricted.
  • Individuals, public associations and other organisations have the right to obtain information on radiation circumstances free of charge.


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:

  • The state guarantees the rights of citizens to receive full, accurate and timely legal information.
  • Public authorities and other public bodies, within their competence and in accordance with the law, must make available to the public legal information emanating from these bodies (organisations) and affecting the rights and legitimate interests of citizens and organisations […]. (Article 8)


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:

  • Public authorities, individuals and legal persons, in accordance with the present law and other legislative acts of the Republic of Belarus, have the right to search for, request, transmit, receive, store, process, use and distribute information. (Article 15)
  • Citizens have the right to receive information from state bodies (organisations) that directly affects their rights, freedoms, legal interests and obligations, as specified by the present law and other legislative acts of the Republic of Belarus. (Article 15)
  • Citizens and legal entities have the right to receive information about the work and activities of state bodies (organisations), within the bounds specified by the present law and other legislative acts of the Republic of Belarus. (Article 15)
  • The right to information cannot be used to promote war, violence and cruelty...or for committing other unlawful actions. (Article 16)

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:

  • any proposed activity and its possible negative impacts on the environment, including emissions;
  • measures envisaged to prevent or reduce negative impacts;
  • any possible decision or project development resulting from a decision;
  • the main available alternatives;
  • the public authorities responsible for making the decision;
  • opportunities for public participation;
  • the dates and locations of public hearings;
  • how and where to obtain the necessary information from the relevant authorities; and
  • how and where to submit questions and proposals to the relevant authorities.


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:

  • The public should be involved at an early stage of decision making when it is still possible to influence the decision makers.
  • The authorities must establish a reasonable timeframe for public participation.
  • Effective efforts must be made to communicate information to the public regarding their opportunities for participation.
  • The public must be provided with basic information concerning environment-related decisions.
  • All information used in environmental decision making should be available for public inspection.
  • The authorities must provide opportunities for the public to submit comments and suggestions.
  • Public bodies should take due consideration of public comments and suggestions prior to making a decision.


Public participation in environmental decision making in Belarus

The following legal acts are relevant to public participation in environmental decision making in Belarus:

Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of March 15, 1994, No. 2875-XII — According to the Constitution:

  • Citizens of the Republic of Belarus have the right to participate in public affairs, directly or through freely elected representatives. (Article 37)
  • The direct participation of citizens in the management of the affairs of society and the state is ensured through referenda, the discussion of draft laws and issues of national and local significance otherwise specified by law. (Article 37)
  • In accordance with the legislation, citizens of the Republic of Belarus may take part in discussions on the state and public life at national and local assemblies. (Article 37)
  • All citizens have the right to submit personal or collective appeals to state bodies. (Article 40)
  • Public authorities and officials are obliged to consider an appeal and provide a substantive response within a time period specified in the law. Failure to consider the submitted application must be justified in writing. (Article 40)


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:

  • establish, in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Belarus, associations operating in the field of environmental protection, and public environmental funds;
  • apply, through the procedure established by the legislation of the Republic of Belarus, to the public authorities and other organisations and officials to obtain complete, accurate and timely environmental information;
  • participate in the preparation and discussion of an environmental impact assessment;
  • make proposals for public environmental expertise and participate in conducting it in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Belarus;
  • assist state agencies in addressing environmental issues;
  • exercise public control in the field of environmental protection;
  • address to the public authorities complaints, applications and proposals on matters relating to the environment and harmful impacts on the environment, and receive timely and justified answers; and
  • initiate a court action for compensation in the event of damage caused to life, health or property as a result of harmful impacts on the environment, and obtain the full or partial suspension or termination of the economic and other activities of legal entities and individuals that have a harmful impact on the environment.


Forest Code of the Republic of Belarus of July 14, 2000, No. 420-W
— Article 14 concerns the participation of citizens, public associations and bodies of the territorial self-government in matters related to the use, conservation and protection of forests and their reproduction.

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.

Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of March 15, 1994, No. 2875-XII — According to the Constitution:

  • Everyone is guaranteed the protection of their rights and freedoms by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal within certain statutory deadlines. (Article 60)
  • Justice shall be administered on the basis of competitive equality between disputing parties. (Article 115)