The meeting convened back to back with meeting on the PRTR.
Parties to the Aarhus Convention agreed to establish a rapid response mechanism to protect environmental defenders, which will take the form of a Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders.
Parties plan to meet again in 2022 to elect the Special Rapporteur.
Parties to the Aarhus Convention have agreed to establish a rapid response mechanism to protect environmental defenders. The decision is among the outcomes of the seventh session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention).
The meeting convened in Geneva, Switzerland, from 18-21 October 2021, back to back with meeting on the Convention’s Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs).
The mechanism will be the first to safeguard environmental defenders within a legally binding, intergovernmental framework.
During the meeting, Austria and Ireland announced their commitment to co-lead the rapid response mechanism. The mechanism will take the form of a Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders under the Aarhus Convention. Parties plan to meet again in 2022 to elect the Special Rapporteur.
The Rapporteur’s role will be to take measures to protect any person experiencing, or at imminent threat of, penalization, persecution, or harassment for seeking to exercise their rights under the Aarhus Convention. Measures could include issuing immediate and ongoing protection measures, using diplomatic channels, issuing public statements, or bringing the matter to the attention of other relevant human rights bodies, and of the concerned governments and heads of state.
The mechanism will be the first to specifically safeguard environmental defenders within a legally binding framework under an intergovernmental structure. It does not require exhausting available domestic remedies before seeking protection from the mechanism.
Parties also adopted a Declaration on environmental democracy, focusing on transparent and participatory infrastructure and spatial planning. Addressing the meetings’ high-level segment, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said large-scale infrastructure projects hold great potential but given their impacts on ecosystems and human health and wellbeing, “Effective public participation is essential in each step of the decision-making process for these projects.”
Welcoming the rapid response mechanism, Guterres said it contributes to advancing his Call to Action for Human Rights.
Following a decision at the meeting, Guinea-Bissau will become the first country from outside the UNECE region to accede to the Convention. [UNECE press release] [About the rapid response mechanism] [Aarhus decision] [Meeting webpage]