Accountability in Governance: The Challenge of Implementing the Aarhus Convention in Eastern Europe and Central Asia
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The signing of the 1998 UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) radically extended international law on transparency and accountability in environmental governance. For the countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) that have now ratified, the Convention could prompt profound democratic changes. This article, based on the authors' experiences, analyses changing cultures of governance in EECCA countries. The first so-called pillar of access to information sets in place rights that directly contradict the fundamental secrecy of the former Soviet Union countries. Some officials' reluctance to share environmental information may also be linked to the economic duress of the current transition period, where information may be an official's only asset. The second pillar of public participation also poses difficulties for officials for whom the highest praise is to be considered a “professional”. In their belief that no one knows better than they do, they are reluctant to spend time and resources to make decision-making transparent and to involve the public. The third pillar of access to justice breaks new ground for post-socialist countries still developing their judicial systems. Though several highly sophisticated NGOs have been successful in using courts, it remains difficult for an ordinary EECCA citizen to bring an environment-related legal action. Changing these attitudes and practices will be a long and troublesome process. The Aarhus Convention will not be truly implemented until openness, transparency and accountability in environmental decision-making become everyday habits.
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