Actors in government, civil society, and academia have been pioneering innovative approaches to advance transparency, accountability, and democracy around the world. Citizen engagement is at the forefront of democratic practices worldwide and a key pillar to support civil society is access to information.
Andrea Sanhueza, a 2012 Draper Hills Summer fellow, shares her success story of how a group of civil society organizations helped advocate for improved environmental governance cooperation across government and civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean region.
Sanhueza has been an active civil society stakeholder in the Summit of the Americas process, which works to build regional cooperation among governments of the Western Hemisphere. In 2009, Sanhueza drafted a strategy for the Organization of American States (OAS) to structure participation of civil society organizations in OAS activities. From 2001-2010, she served as the executive director of PARTICIPA, a Chilean NGO that works in the democracy field on issues of elections, transparency, access to information, and citizen participation.
What is The Access Initiative?
Founded in 2000, The Access Initiative (TAI) is a global coalition of civil society organizations that work towards the implementation of the right to access of information, participation and justice regarding environmental issues. These rights —known as access rights — are included in Principle 10 of the Río Declaration that was signed at the first Earth Summit in 1992.
Why are access rights important?
Access rights are key for democracy and governance because they are the foundation for exercising human rights. If a person can have access to information about a public issue (education, health, or pension) and can participate in a meaningful way, then he/she will be able to effectively exercise their rights. Without access to information — which is the major building block — it is almost impossible to exercise human rights.
Since its founding, TAI has been dedicated to improving citizens’ access to environmental decision-making, strengthening the enforcement of environmental law and policy, combating corruption, and realizing human rights.
What has been one of The Access Initiatives' key milestones?
In June 2012, the second conference on sustainable development took place in Brazil, known as the Río+20 Summit. TAI came together to advocate for the advancement of access rights for countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region.
I visited the government of Chile — specifically the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Ministry of the Environment — to let them know about the TAI proposal for a regional convention. The proposal included evidence-based advocacy to encourage collaboration across government and civil society and promote innovation that advances transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness of civil society at all levels.
The government of Chile submitted the TAI proposal for a regional convention on the Principal 10 Declaration to the U.N. The governments of Jamaica and Brazil also submitted the TAI proposal and showed their support. This was a milestone in the longer process.
How were you and your partners successful in convincing other governments to support TAI?
TAI was successful in getting other governments on board to support the initiative through a strategic partnership with the government of Chile who was key to getting other governments to sign the declaration.
TAI and representatives of the government of Chile started advocating during the preparatory meetings of the summit to other governments. We encouraged them to join this proposal for the advancement of access rights for countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region. After two years of advocating for the relevance of a regional instrument in the declaration, we had 11 governments supporting our proposal for the development of a regional instrument to strengthen access to information, public participation, and access to justice in sustainable development decision‐making. These governments include: Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.
What was the outcome of this collation of governments in the Latin American and Caribbean region?
The signatory governments committed to drafting and implementing a Plan of Action 2012-14, to work towards an international instrument. The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) is serving as the technical secretariat for the process.
In November 2012, ECLAC hosted the first meeting of representatives appointed by the signatory governments in Santiago, Chile. The representatives agreed on a roadmap that defines the next steps for the collation and appointed a steering committee composed of the governments of Chile, Dominican Republic, and Mexico to coordinate the process.
What role does civil society play in advancing environmental democracy?
The participation of civil society in the development of a Latin American and Caribbean Principle 10 instrument is essential to the process. There now exists a real opportunity to advance environmental democracy and access rights in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Civil society's participation would ensure that the instrument is capable of actually strengthening public institutions in the region, and ensure its legitimacy and viability as a tool to strengthen environmental governance for sustainable development. Governments have committed to a participatory process, but this commitment will not materialize if civil society lacks the actual capacity to participate in the relevant meetings of the process.
What does the future hold for TAI?
We are very excited about the possibility of creating a regional instrument for the efficient implementation of access rights in Latin American and Caribbean region. Today there is a real opportunity for both governments and civil society to promote good environmental governance through implementation of the LAC Principle 10 Declaration. The declaration is still open for signature by other Latin American and Caribbean countries, and it is expected that more countries will join the process and lend increased vigor to this innovative approach to regional cooperation on environmental governance.