Festive event at the Ombudsman’s Office on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Aarhus Convention
On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Aarhus Convention, which is the fundamental document of public participation, also promoting the enforcement of the right to a healthy environment, the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights organized an anniversary memorial conference in joint efforts with the Environmental Management and Law Association (EMLA). The event was supported by the LIFE program of the European Union and the International Visegrad Fund.
The Aarhus Convention, which was adopted under the aegis of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in 1998, took effect in 2001, and it was enacted and proclaimed in Hungary in the same year too. Among others, the Convention declares that “…each Party shall guarantee to the public the right to access to information, the possibility to participate in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters”.
The speakers of the festive occasion held at the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights reviewed how the guarantees specified in the Convention are enforced in Hungary. Several of the presenters, including Ombudsman for Future Generations Gyula Bándi, who gave the opening speech, looked back at the process of elaborating the Convention as the one-time participants of this preparatory work. They praised the commitment of the states and citizens to the protection of the environmental conditions that constitute the foundation of our lives, as well as the significance of cooperation between the state and civil society. It was mentioned that according to the Convention, which qualifies as a milestone, ensuring access to environmental information of public interest is vital, as the citizens can act in defense of the environment and nature only by possessing this information by not only enforcing their rights but by fulfilling their obligations as well. This is in line with the requirements of the Fundamental Law of Hungary, which stipulates that it is the state’s and every citizen’s obligation to protect, preserve and maintain the nation’s natural and cultural heritage for the future generations.
Fruzsina Bögös, as the member of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, presented the requirements to be included in the committee decisions and based on her own experience as an administrative judge, she summed up the dilemmas in decision-making that the judges are faced with during the enforcement of the Aarhus Convention.
The staff members of EMLA presented the findings of their research on the enforcement of the right to environmental remedy conducted in as many as 11 EU member states as part of the Justice and Environment (J&E) Network. The participants of the event, which also functioned as a training session on environmental law, stressed that the involvement of the citizens in making decisions promotes informed decision-making, as is also emphasized in the preamble to the Convention. This is why the conditions that make the operation of the civil societies that protect nature and the environment difficult should be eliminated, and also, it is important for the members of society to be provided the necessary information and preparation for the possibilities and ways of participation.