Victory for Access to Information in South Africa

1/6/2015

ELAW eBulletin
Victory for Access to Information in South Africa

ELAW partners in South Africa secured a major victory affirming the right to access environmental information from corporations when it is needed to protect constitutional rights.

 Center For Environmental Rights

For over ten years, a South African community-rights organization sought access to a steel corporation's records after the company had illegally dumped hazardous waste.

The steel corporation's actions seriously impacted human health and the environmental quality of nearby communities.

South Africa's Constitution guarantees the right for everyone to live in a healthy environment.  ELAW partners at the Centre for Environmental Rights represented the community-rights organization, and requested the corporation's records under South Africa's access to information laws to protect the communities' right to a healthy environment.  The steel corporation resisted handing over the records, arguing the community-rights organization had no right to access the documents of a private corporation.

In its decision, the South African Supreme Court of Appeal ordered the steel corporation to release the environmental records to the community-rights organization.  The court stressed the importance of transparency in environmental issues, stating "[c]orporations operating within our borders, whether local or international, must be left in no doubt that, in relation to the environment in circumstances such as those under discussion, there is no room for secrecy and that constitutional values will be enforced."

Find the court decision at ELAW Digest, an annual compilation of important environmental law decisions.

ELAW Staff Attorneys provided support to the Centre for Environmental Rights during their fight against the steel corporation.  This is an important victory for the Centre for Environmental Rights, South Africa, and communities around the world, highlighting the importance of access to information for practices that harm communities and the environment.

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Maggie Keenan
Communications Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide