Ledyayeva, Dobrokhotova, Zolotareva and Romashina v. Russia

Application Nos. 53157/99, 53247/99, 53695/00 and 56850/00
Download Judgment: English

The four applicants alleged that pollution levels near their homes violated their right to respect for their private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“Convention”). All the applicants lived within a “sanitary security zone” around a local steel plant and were exposed to concentrations of dangerous substances above the maximum permissible levels under Russian legislation. The applicants provided medical documentation confirming they suffered from chronic diseases, though none asserted a link between their conditions and place of residence. The municipality owned their housing.

In 1999, the first applicant brought suit against the steel company claiming that a 1989 governmental decree required it to undertake environmental protection measures in the zone and to resettle inhabitants. The Cherepovets Town Court held that the company had no obligation but ordered the municipality to put the applicant on a waiting list to be resettled.

In 1996, the second, third, and fourth applicants all brought actions against the company seeking resettlement. The Cherepovets Town Court rejected their claims and ordered the municipality to place the applicants on a waiting list for new housing. In 1999, the Court dismissed claims that the decision had not been properly enforced, noting there was no requirement to have a special waiting list for zone residents. This decision was upheld by the Vologda Regional Court, and the applicants appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Court found that the excess pollution made the applicants more vulnerable to illness and engaged the State’s positive obligations under Article 8 of the Convention. Obligations under the Convention persisted despite changes in domestic policies. The Court also found that the applicants were unable to make an informed choice and were not in a position to reject the housing offered by the state or move elsewhere at their own expense in the absence of a resettlement program.

The Court found that the government had breached its obligation to establish legal mechanisms to reduce pollution or mitigate its effects. There was insufficient evidence of regulation and instruments to reduce pollution or mitigate its affect. Accordingly, the Court held that the State had not appropriately balanced the pursuit of legitimate aims under section 2 of Article 8 against the applicants’ health and well-being.

The Court did not prescribe specific remedial measures and allowed the Government to choose how to implement its obligations.

“The Court accepted that, given the complexity and the scale of the environmental problem around the Severstal steel-plant, this problem could not be resolved in a short period of time. However, it did not mean that the authorities might remain passive. On the contrary, they had to take ‘reasonable and appropriate measures to secure the applicants' rights under paragraph 1 of Article 8’ (Hatton and Others v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 3602, § 98, ECHR 2003‑VIII) in a shortest delay possible. Given the seriousness of the situation, the onus was on the State to show how it coped with the environmental problem. However, in that case the Government failed to do so. They did not show that the effects of the operation of the plant on public health and well-being were regularly monitored and the information obtained was shared with the population concerned. Further, the Government did not explain how the information available influenced their policy vis-à-vis the plant, and what that policy consisted of. Finally, the Government failed to show how the policy (if any) was enforced, which sanctions had been applied and for what kind of breaches. In these circumstances the Court drew adverse inferences and concluded that in regulating the steel-plant's industrial activities the authorities had not given due weight to the interests of the community living in close proximity to the premises of the Severstal steel-plant.” Para. 104.

“The Court concludes that, despite the wide margin of appreciation left to the respondent State, the authorities failed to take appropriate measures in order to protect the applicants’ right to respect for their homes and private lives against serious environmental nuisances. In particular, the authorities have neither resettled the applicants outside the dangerous zone, nor have they provided for a compensation for those seeking the resettlement. Furthermore, it appears that the authorities failed to develop and implement an efficient public policy which would induce the steel-plant to reduce its emissions to the safe levels within a reasonable time. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.” Para 110.

“The Court notes that the resettlement of [the applicants] in an environmentally safe area (a measure sought by the applicants before the domestic instances) would only be one of many possible solutions. The Court is conscious that there are other possible ways of reducing the negative effects of the plant’s activities on those who, like the applicants, reside in the vicinity of it. Therefore, given the complexity of the situation, and in line with its approach to the Fadeyeva case, cited above, the Court will not prescribe any particular legal, administrative or other measure to be adopted by the Government….Subject to monitoring by the Committee of Ministers, the respondent State remains free to choose the means by which it will discharge its legal obligation under Articles 41 and 46 of the Convention, provided that such means are compatible with the conclusions set out in the present judgment…” Para 117.