Case No. 55723/00
Judgment date: 9 June 2005
Since 1982, the applicant and her family lived in the city of Cherepovets, a major steel-producing centre in Russia. Their council flat was situated within half a kilometre of a steel plant, now operated by Severstal PLC, Russia’s largest iron-smelting company. In 2000, the authorities confirmed that the concentration of certain hazardous substances (including carbon disulphide and formaldehyde) in the atmosphere within the zone largely exceeded the ‘maximum permitted limit’ (MPL) established by Russian legislation. In 1995 the applicant brought an action to the local court, seeking resettlement outside the zone. The court recognised that her flat was situated within the ‘sanitary security zone’, an area around the plant, which delimits areas where pollution may be excessive and was supposed to be free of residential property. The court found that, in principle, the applicant had the right to be resettled, but made no specific order for her resettlement, instead requiring the local authorities to put her on a priority housing waiting list. On 31 August 1999, the Town Court dismissed the applicant’s further action against the municipality and confirmed that she had been put on a ‘general waiting list’. The local courts then found that no further steps were necessary, as the original judgment had been executed.
The Court found that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention. It held that the environmental impact of the Severstal Steel Plant amounted to interference in the life of the applicant. That interference could be attributable to the State given its positive obligations to regulate the private sector, the size of the impact of the steel plant on Cherepovets, and the State’s prior involvement with the plant.
While the Court found that the denial to immediately resettle the applicant may have been pursuant to a legitimate aim (protection of the economic well-being of the Volodga region), it held that the State had failed to strike a fair balance between the interests of the community and the applicant’s effective enjoyment of her right to respect for her home and private life. The applicant’s placement on the waiting list did not give her any realistic hope of being removed from the pollution in the foreseeable future. Additionally, the Court considered that the State had not fully engaged with its positive obligations under Article 8 to effectively regulate the steel plant.
The Court ordered the state to pay to the applicant the sum of EUR 6,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damages. It however fell short of ordering that the applicant be relocated – it felt that this was one of many possible remedies.
This case highlights the broad scope of Article 8 and emphasises the positive obligations of the State under Article 8 – notably that the State must regulate when a private entity interferes with the human rights of the public. In her original submissions the applicant had also claimed violation of Articles 2 and 3. In relation to Article 2 the Court found that the applicant had not faced any ‘real and immediate risk’ either to her physical integrity or her life, and that issues raised under Article 2 were more appropriately dealt with under Article 8. It also considered that there was no evidence to indicate that the applicant’s housing conditions amounted to treatment incompatible with Article 3.