ELAW partners in Spain recently won an important victory for environmental democracy and their local community when an international body ruled in their favor in Geneva, Switzerland.
Fe Sanchis Moreno and Eduardo Salazar Ortuno of the Association for Environmental Justice (Asociación para la Justicia Ambiental, or AJA!) represented an association of farmers (Association of Senda de Granada Oeste Neighbors) in a case in front of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (a United Nations quasi-judicial body) concerning decision-making on a residential development project in the city of Murcia, Spain. The project displaced people and destroyed their traditional gardens and houses.
The farmers had gone through seven cases in various courts in Spain’s domestic court system but without any positive decision. Finally they came to Geneva, saying: “We came to the Committee as to the last resort and hope to find justice and to change the system in Spain for the better.”
The local government’s responses to information requests filed by AJA! were excessively delayed and the City Council imposed a fee of about $2.65 per page for documents. The clients sought 600 pages, so they would have had to pay over $1,700.00 just to learn the facts about the development projects. When the community requested the local government to provide the information on a CD, which would cost about $17.00, their request was rejected.
The public could not participate effectively because it was informed about development plans only after the city had already signed an agreement for the project. Furthermore, AJA! and its clients were denied access to justice. The Compliance Committee found that “citizens cannot actually obtain injunctive relief early or late; it indicates that while injunctive relief is theoretically available, it is not available in practice.”
The Compliance Committee found non-compliance by Spain with all three pillars of the Convention: access to information, public participation, and access to justice in Spain. The community of farmers and ELAW’s partner lawyers are celebrating the victory and planning how to use it to change the legal system in Spain for the better.