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Community of Pyrga through the President of the Community and the local authority of Pyrga and ors v Republic of Cyprus through the Council of Ministers and ors, Interim decision, Case no 671/1991, ILDC 1790 (CY 1991), (1991) CLR 3498, 7th November 1991, Cyprus; Supreme Court [Sup Ct]

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 15 December 2018

Subject(s):
Access to justice — Right to life — Right to adequate standard of living — Right to health — International environmental law — Soft law
Core Issue(s):
Whether the right to life—as protected by the Cyprus Constitution—could be interpreted in light of international instruments so as to encompass a right to the environment.

Oxford Reports on International Law in Domestic Courts is edited by:

Professor André Nollkaemper, University of Amsterdam and  August Reinisch, University of Vienna.

Facts

F1  The Community of Pyrga and various citizens’ organizations (‘Community’) challenged the legality of a quarry permit granted by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in an area close to their Community by reference to, inter alia‎, the protection of the environment. They sought an injunction to suspend the permit on the grounds of preventing irreversible damage to the natural environment, as well as the nuisance from quarry dust and noise.

F2  The Council of Ministers challenged the standing of the Community to bring a claim for the protection of the environment. The Council argued that the government had the exclusive competence to cater for the environment throughout Cyprus.

Held

H1  The Constitution, 1960 (Cyprus)—unlike the constitutions, legislation, and case law of various countries such as Greece, France, the United States, and Germany—did not provide for the protection of the environment either as a collective (state) obligation or through the establishment of an individual right. [paragraphs 6, 7, 8]

H2  The human right to the environment had been the subject of two European conferences. In the conclusions of the Second European Conference on the Environment and Human Rights held in Salzburg on 3 December 1980, it was declared that the human right to the environment was a precondition for the rights to life and health. The right to the environment was also considered to be a right of citizens to participate in decision making when the environment in which they lived was harmed. [paragraph 11]

H3  The right to life in Article 7(1) of the Cyprus Constitution had been established as a universal human right, as in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Resolution 217A(III); UN Doc A/810 91, UN General Assembly, 10 December 1948. Article 7(1) of the Constitution thus differed from Article 2 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (4 November 1950) 213 UNTS 222; 312 ETS 5, entered into force 3 September 1953 (‘European Convention on Human Rights’, ‘ECHR’) because it did not attach the right to life to the responsibility of the state to safeguard it. [paragraph 13]

H4  The right to life under Article 7(1) of the Constitution was not limited to the protection of human existence but extended to encompass the basic conditions for human subsistence in the space where one lived. The biological meaning of life included the function of the human being as part of the natural environment. In that respect, the right to life under Article 7(1) of the Constitution gave individuals a say in the shaping of the natural environment in which they lived. Thus, since the natural environment was common to all inhabitants of a community, the authority representing them could collectively defend it. [paragraphs 9, 10, 15, 16]

H5  Apart from Article 7(1) of the Constitution, Article 9 of the Constitution—which established the right to decent existence—could also possibly give individuals a say in the environment to the extent that their health was affected. [paragraph 17]

H6  The Community of Pyrga, through the local authority, had standing to bring a claim for the protection of the environment because it fell on the local authority to defend and protect the common interest of the Community’s inhabitants. However, other associations and organizations did not possess an interest that could be protected through judicial action. [paragraphs 19, 20]

Date of Report: 21 October 2013
Reporter(s):
Aristoteles Constantinides

Analysis

A1  This was the first decision of the Supreme Court of Cyprus to recognize that a ‘collectivity’ had standing to bring a claim for the protection of the natural environment. Standing was, however, limited to the local authorities and was not extended to other organizations and associations, let alone individuals who were not directly affected. Standing for environmental nongovernmental organizations and other legal persons in environmental cases was granted in Cyprus by the Environmental Impact Assessment of Certain Projects, Law 140(I), 2005 (Cyprus) following Cyprus’ accession to the European Union in 2004 and its 2003 ratification of the 1998 Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (25 June 1998) 2161 UNTS 447, entered into force 30 October 2001 (‘Aarhus Convention’).

A2  The decision at hand was significant for its reliance on developments in comparative and international—soft—law with a view to filling the environmental protection gap in Cyprus law at the time. In doing so, Judge Pikis construed the right to life in the Constitution as encompassing a right to the environment and, in particular, the collective—procedural—right of individuals to have a say—through their local authorities—in the environment in which they live. The Supreme Court of India was a pioneer in this field as it was the first to construe broadly the constitutionally protected right to life to include, among others, a right to the environment (see eg MC Mehta v Union of India, Judgment, 22 September 1987, AIR 1988 SC 1037). As with the Indian Constitution (India), the Cyprus Constitution contains no provision on the right to environment or environmental protection.

A3  Significantly, these decisions predated the adoption of important international instruments that proclaimed environmental rights, such as the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, UN Doc A/CONF.151/5/Rev1, 31 ILM 874 (1992) and the 1998 Aarhus Convention.

A4  The relationship between the environment and human rights can be conceptualized in three ways: by interpreting (‘greening’) civil rights to include substantive or procedural environmental rights; by linking the environment to certain socioeconomic rights or treating the environment as such a right; and by considering the environment as a collective right of communities—rather than of individuals—to determine how their environment should be protected and managed (see Alan Boyle, ‘Environment and Human Rights’, para 3, in Max Planck Encyclopaedia of Public International Law, online edition). The decision at hand fell within the first approach, but also contained elements of the second and third approaches.

Date of Analysis: 21 October 2013
Analysis by: Aristoteles Constantinides

Instruments cited in the full text of this decision:

Cases cited in the full text of this decision:

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