environmental information, human rights, right of access to information, democracy, disclosure, decision-making
Can access to information held by the State be seen as a fundamental right of the individual and a crucial component of democracy? What about access to environmental information? This Article attempts to answer these questions by exploring international treaties and agreements, national constitutions, and national information laws. The Article starts by providing some background and history on the issue of public access to government records. It analyzes the extent of the right of access to information, restrictions on access to information, procedures for obtaining information from governmental agencies, and remedies for violating the right of access to information. It also identifies problems that frequently arise in the field of public access to information and makes recommendations for promoting public access to environmental information, based on examples where such practices are already in place. Access to information allows the public to be aware of governmental decisions that can impact the environment and individual lives. It also allows the public to participate in criticizing, and thereby improving governmental decision-making. This ultimately can help to prevent harmful activities that can cause significant damage to the health of people and the environment. The Article contends that meaningful access to information must include these key principles:
• Maximum disclosure and transparency of governmental files should exist;
• Any exceptions for access to information should be narrowly drawn, with only limited and justifiable exemptions;
• Information should be provided free of charge or at reasonable cost; and
• Administrative or judicial remedies for denial of access to information should be available.
(2009) 11 Oregon Review of International Law 227
Is Access to Environmental Information a Fundamental Human Right?
A Sachs and JA Peterson
Grassroots movement, environment, human rights, environmental information, confrontations, dumping, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, environmental justice
This Worldwatch report affirms that the grassroots movement to improve the environment and human rights should be operable at the regional and international levels. Grassroots groups have demonstrated the success of empowering people and of the protection of civil liberties in environmental preservation. The author’s stance is that “potential polluters and profligate consumers” would not be able to treat vulnerable populations as expendable and would be forced to seek other alternatives to polluting activities and overconsumption, under certain conditions. All vulnerable members of society must have access to environmental information, exercise their rights of free speech, and have a role in determining their access to resources. Prevention is considered less costly by reducing production of hazardous wastes than by increasing the number of dump sites. The preventive lesson learned from human rights activists is that confrontation is necessary between the “dumpers and the dumped on” in order to secure the health and well-being of future generations. Although countries may never agree on a definition of environmental justice, there is global agreement on protecting the basic human rights that make achieving environmental justice possible. Justice is viewed as unattainable without citizen participation in key decisions. The environmental movement has been successful in development of scientific solutions to environmental degradation. Joining forces with human rights activists gives impetus to the movement to get environmental reforms implemented. Irresponsibility concerning protection of the environment is expected to stop when the elites themselves become aware that all humankind is affected by global warming and the survival of all mankind is at stake. This short volume addresses the following topics: how Greenpeace and Amnesty International are learning from each other; the human rights focus on individuals; environmental issues that cross national borders; a human rights framework for sustainable development; and environmental justice.
Washington, D.C., Worldwatch Institute, 1995 Dec. 68 (Worldwatch Paper 127)
Eco-justice: linking human rights and the environment.