Case of Okyay and others v. Turkey
This case concerned the Turkish national authorities’ failure to implement the domestic courts’ order to shut down three thermal-power plants which polluted the environment in south-west Turkey. The applicants lived and worked in a city which was approximately 250 kilometres from the site of the power plants. The applicants argued that it was their constitutional right to live in a healthy and balanced environment, and their duty to ensure the protection of the environment and to prevent environmental pollution. The thermal-power plants had been operated for many years, and poor-quality coal used by the plants to produce energy had caused pollution and had harmed the region’s biological diversity. According to experts’ opinion the plants emitted considerable amounts of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide and were not equipped with the mandatory chimney filters. In 1996 the Aydın Administrative Court had issued an interlocutory injunction for suspension of the power plants’ operation. It found that the plants had been operating since 1994 without having obtained the requisite permits for construction, gas emissions and the discharge of waste water. This decision was later upheld by the Supreme Administrative Court. The applicants then applied to the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the national authorities had failed to implement the administrative courts’ judgments and their right to a fair hearing had been breached on account of this. They relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the relevant part of which reads: “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by [a] ... tribunal...” The court analyzed the relevant international texts on the right to a healthy environment, examined the filing of the administrative court action, the enforcement of the court decisions by the authorities, the applicability of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in the instant case and the compliance with Article 6 § 1. The Court noted that the administrative authorities had failed to comply with the Administrative Courts’ order suspending the activities of the three thermal-power plants. On the contrary, the Council of Ministers had decided that the three thermal-power plants should continue to be operated despite the administrative courts’ judgments. This latter decision had no legal basis and was obviously unlawful under domestic law. The Court considered that the national authorities’ failure to comply in practice and within a reasonable time with the judgments deprived Article 6 § 1 of any useful effect. There had therefore been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. The applicants claimed non-pecuniary damage for the emotional suffering and distress caused by the non enforcement of the administrative courts’ decisions. They left the sum to be awarded to the discretion of the court. The court awarded each applicant the sum of 1,000 euros according to Article 41 of the Convention.