City: Plovdiv, Bulgaria
To improve the quality of air in the city of Plovdiv, to break with some legal stereotypes and to create a qualitatively new concept of justice, subject to public interest and human rights.
Images courtesy of www.eurorights-bg.org & www.novinite.com
Holding Organisation: Association for European Integration and Human Rights, Plovdiv, Bulgaria Status: Foundation Financing: Donations, grants, private funds People involved in the project: 4 initiators and many citizens Public Partners: No Private Partners: NGOs and individuals Creation Date: September 2011 Sources & Links: www.eurorights-bg.org; e-mail: hurights à mail.bg Contact Persons: Snejana Stefanova
The collective claim against the Municipality of Plovdiv and the Regional Inspectorate of Environment and Waters - Plovdiv has been filed at Plovdiv District Court. The claim has been raised by the Foundation “Association for European Integration and Human Rights” together with four other persons. It is based on data of the Italian Institute of Statistics according to which, within the period 2007 – 2011 Plovdiv was the city with the worst levels of air quality in terms of atmospheric content and matter smaller than 10 micrometres (FPM). According to the plaintiffs, the Municipality of Plovdiv and RIEW – Plovdiv have failed to fulfill their obligations to control all activities affecting air purity.
The claim has been raised on behalf of and in defense of the collective interest of all permanent inhabitants of the city of Plovdiv, between the period 2007 – 2011, that have been afflicted and/or jeopardised by the environmental pollution of FPM. The purpose of the claim is to confront the inactivity of the Municipality of Plovdiv and the RIEW – Plovdiv and to take effective measures to protect the environment and air purity. No monetary demands for compensation have been raised.
The court case is unique in its legal content in Bulgaria.
The local context
The initiative was developed inthe second largest city in Bulgaria – the city of Plovdiv. According to a number of international and national studies, the city of Plovdiv is the city with the dirtiest air content in Bulgaria in terms of FPM. In recent years the number of persons suffering ailments caused by poor quality of air in Plovdiv has been drastically increasing. At the same time, the authorities responsible for citizens have not been undertaking any efficient measures to improve conditions and air pollution.
The starting point
The idea to file the collective claim emerged after a number of respected international bodies published results from atmospheric air studies in national media. According to those articles the city of Plovdiv is the city with the dirtiest air content in Bulgaria. After familiarising itself with these studies, the legal team of the Association began gathering information (studies, statements, etc.) about the air pollution, the factors affecting pollution, the effects on human health and the ways to reduce harmful emissions. The team united around the idea that the most efficient method to protect the interests of all citizens of Plovdiv was to file a collective complaint both on behalf of a human rights protection organisation, like the Association, and on behalf of people living in the city of Plovdiv.
How does it work
The collective claim was filed at Plovdiv District Court in September 2011. Many requests for evidence have been filed. The court has admitted a number of expert reports related to the assessment of both Plovdiv air quality and actions performed by relevant authorities.
The presence of numerous authoritative studies confirming the plaintiffs’ standpoint that the air content in the city of Plovdiv is heavily polluted as well as the clear failure of state authorities to undertake efficient measures to reduce harmful emissions is what makes the winning of the court case realistic.
As a result of the submitted complaint, the competent state authorities have already begun to undertake a number of measures to fulfill their obligations related to air purity protection.
Participation and governance
The claim has been formally filed by the Association and another four persons. Prior to the first court hearing, another 100 citizens of the city of Plovdiv joined the claim. The case proceedings are being financed by participants’ private funds. The legal experts of the Association are assisted in terms of logistics by the Foundation “Green Balkans” – Plovdiv.
Added value of the project
The initiative creates an opportunity for all citizens of the city of Plovdiv to live in a healthier and purer environment. In the case that the claim is successful, it will bring confidence that legal opportunities for the protection of collective interests do in fact exist.
The main difficulties are related to slow administrative practices in Court and post-totalitarian attitudes of Bulgarian judges who are adverse to perceiving new, unusual human rights protection initiatives.
We are awaiting the court decision in order to consider the next steps. Should the collective claim be successful, new court practices could emerge and be used as a basis for further successful human rights initiatives in the protection of the collective interest.
Other valuable projects
The legal experts of the “Association for European Integration and Human Rights” have submitted over 1000 claims of Bulgarian citizens to the European Court of Human Rights. Some of the decisions of this Court have significantly contributed to the reform of Bulgarian law in compliance with the international human rights standards. After Bulgaria became a member of the European Union on January 1st, 2007, a number of cases of EU law breaches were referred to the European Commission by the legal experts of the Association. Due to the intervention of the Commission, some of the problems have been resolved. The Commission also initiated penalty procedures against Bulgaria relating to other problems. The first claims for compensation for damages incurred due to failure to implement European norms in Bulgarian law have been brought to court.
The Association places a specific human rights focus on cases related to protection of vulnerable groups. Its attorneys successfully headed the first cases in Bulgaria relating to disabled persons and inaccessible environments. They also won the first cases for protection of cancer victims against the poor procurement of life-saving and life-maintaining medicaments as well as a number of cases relating to protection against discrimination.
Another of the Association’s successes relates to the civilian control over authorities’ illegal actions, with a focus on appealing regulations, rules and decrees issued by the authorities. A number of cases concerning important social spheres like energy pricing, consumer rights, academic plans and programmes of Bulgarian schools have also been won. The Association conducts trainings for lawyers and journalists in the field of human rights, carries out publishing activities and is actively engaged in monitoring human rights protection standards in Bulgaria.