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Title
Case of Guerra and Others v. Italy
Party
Italy
Type of document
International court
Date of text
February 19, 1998
Data source
InforMEA
Court name
European Court of Human Rights
Seat of court
Strasbourg
Justice(s)
Bernhardt
Gölcüklü
Matscher
Spielmann
Loizou
Freeland
Lopez Rocha
Repik
Küris
Levits
Casadevall
Walsh
Palm
Russo
Macdonald
Makarczyk
van Dijk
Jambrek
Vilhjálmsson
Bonnici
Reference number
116/1996/735/932
Abstract

This case dealt with the failure to provide local population with information about risk factors and how to proceed in event of an accident at nearby chemical factory.
The applicants all lived in the town of Manfredonia. Approximately one kilometre away was the Enichem agricoltura company’s chemical factory. In 1988 the factory, which produced fertilizers, was classified as “high risk” according to the criteria set out in a Presidential Decree regarding the major-accident hazards of certain industrial activities dangerous to the environment and the well-being of the local population. The applicants said that in the course of its production cycle the factory released large quantities of inflammable gas – a process which could have led to explosive chemical reactions, releasing highly toxic substances – and other dangerous substances.
The applicants made two complaints. Firstly, the authorities had not taken appropriate action to reduce the risk of pollution by the chemical factory and to avoid the risk of major accidents; that situation, they asserted, infringed their right to life and physical integrity as guaranteed by Article 2 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Secondly, the Italian State had failed to take steps to provide information about the risks and how to proceed in the event of a major accident, as they were required to do according to the Presidential Decree; as a result there had been a breach of their right to freedom of information laid down in Article 10 of the Convention.
The court noted that the right of public to receive information had been recognised by the Court on a number of occasions in cases concerning restrictions on freedom of press. The facts of the present case were, however, were clearly distinguishable from the aforementioned cases. Freedom to receive information basically prohibited a government from restricting a person from receiving information that others wished to impart to him – that freedom could not be construed as imposing on a State, in circumstances such as those of the present case, positive obligations to collect and disseminate information of its own motion. It therefore concluded that Article 10 was not applicable.
Regarding Article 8 the court emphasized that the direct effect of toxic emissions on the applicants’ right to respect for their private and family life meant that Article 8 was applicable. The question was whether national authorities had taken the necessary steps to ensure effective protection of the applicants’ right to respect for their private and family life. Severe environmental pollution could affect the individuals’ well-being and prevent them from enjoying their homes in such a way as to affect their private and family life adversely. The applicants had waited, right up until production of fertilisers had ceased in 1994, for essential information that would have enabled them to assess risks they and their families might run if they continued to live around the factory. It concluded that the respondent State had not fulfilled its obligation to secure the applicants’ right to respect for their private and family life. There was a violation of Art. 8. Finally, the court awarded each applicant a specific sum as non-pecuniary damage.