Ngo Legal Standing

In Austria, for example, associations must be organised as a non-profit legal entity or a foundation whose main objective is environmental protection and must be legally registered as environmental protection activities for at least three years. See 2011 National Implementation Report of the Aarhus Convention, Austria, p. 26, paragraph 97. live.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/reporting/NIRs%202011/Austria_NIR_2011.pdf. Retrieved 10 September 2011. See also the legislation of the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom in the national implementation reports of the 2011 Aarhus Convention (live.unece.org/env/pp/reports_implementation_2011.html. Retrieved 10 September 2011. See also Milieu Reports 2007, point 3 above. The Belgian and French systems also appear as examples.

As regards the former, the criteria for standing are mainly defined in the 1993 Act on the Right to Sue to Protect the Environment. The Act provides for summary judicial proceedings before the President of the Court of First Instance to obtain an injunction that may be brought by legal persons to challenge decisions considered to be a clear violation of environmental legislation. As regards the conditions to be fulfilled, although the 1993 Act does not apply a criterion based on the number of followers involved in the activities of the association, it requires that the “territory covered by its activity be defined in its statutes” (section 2 of the 1993 Act). Although this wording seems vague as it gives no indication of the geographical scope of the provision, the relevant case law provides useful guidance. For example, a 2001 judgment of the Brussels Court of First Instance made it clear that the Court should have interpreted Article 2 as meaning that it was necessary to examine whether the measure taken by the NGO was in the collective interest to protect the environment referred to in its statutes. Furthermore, the Court of First Instance stated that this examination must be carried out irrespective of the regional or local nature of the NGOs (Court of First Instance, Brussels: A.S.B.L. Inter-environnement Wallonie, A.S.B.L. Inter-environnement Bruxelles, A.S.B.L. Bond Beter Leefmilieu Vlaanderen, A.S.B.L.

Brusselse raad voor Het Leefmilieu, v Belgian State, Public Hearing No 2001/2622/A [27 April 2001]). This interpretation of geographical scope was also confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Erablière A.S.B.L. v. Belgium. More specifically, in assessing the applicability of Article 6 of the Convention (right to a fair trial) to the present case, the Court relied on the consideration that, according to the case-law of the Conseil d`Etat, NGOs have locus standi only if they can prove that they have a link with the territory concerned by the contested decision (ECtHR: Erablière A.S.B.L. c. Belgium, 49230/07, judgment (24 February 2009, paragraphs 27-30). As regards French legislation, it is also necessary to have a substantial correspondence between the field of activity of the association and the field concerned by the contested measure (see Milieu Report 2007, loc.

cit. note 3, table 1, iv)). In addition, the French Environmental Code makes no reference to the national or local nature of the activities of environmental associations to be considered as “approved associations” that can be recognized as having standing to act. According to the Environmental Code, “[i]f they have been active for at least three years, the associations have as their statutory activities the conservation of nature and wildlife management, the improvement of the living environment, the protection of water, air, soil, soil and landscape, town planning or the fight against pollution and nuisances and, in general, the main objective is the protection of the environment: may be the subject of a reasoned authorization from the managing authority” (Articles L. 141-1 et seq.). Of course, flexibility in Belgium and France should not be overestimated. The geographical criterion could also have the consequence that an organization whose object extends over a vast territory can challenge an administrative act only if it concerns all or a large part of the territory provided for in the statutes of the organization. This article examines the extent to which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have the right to assert human rights in European, Inter-American and African human rights enforcement systems, examines the extent to which NGOs actually bring such cases, and analyses the impact of NGO involvement in these systems. The first part of this article deals with how NGOs can be involved in the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as well as the African Commission on Human and Peoples` Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples` Rights. Admittedly, as explained in this section, there are important differences between these different regional human rights systems, in which NGOs may act in each of them in different roles, including as claimants, as representatives of alleged victims and as third parties acting in an amicus curiae or intervener role. The second part examines how NGOs are actually involved in these systems by examining all merit-based decisions made during the ten-year period from 2000 to 2009. A review of these decisions reveals both striking similarities and differences.

The most significant similarity is that the involvement of NGOs consists mainly of acting as representatives of alleged victims of human rights violations. The main differences are that NGO participation in the European system is concentrated on both the Member States and the specific NGOs involved and occurs only in a relatively small proportion of decisions. In contrast, in the inter-American system, NGOs are involved in a much higher proportion of decisions and, although there are concentrations in relation to specific NGOs, there are less obvious concentrations in relation to Member States. Finally, there is also a high proportion of NGO participation in the African system, but no obvious concentration, either in relation to specific NGOs or the Member States concerned. The third part then deals with the impact of the permissible and actual scale of NGO participation in these systems.

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