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ClientEarth Communications

20th September 2019

Air pollution
Environmental justice

Lawyers weigh in on human rights violations in Italy’s waste crisis

In Italy’s Campania region, towering piles of waste are devastating the lives of hundreds of people. The authority’s failure to create a waste disposal system has resulted in mountains of rubbish, driving people to burn it.

But the waste mountains contain hazardous materials, and after years of burning these piles illegally dumped by organised crime groups, parts of Campania – now known as ‘Terra dei Fuochi’ or, ‘land of fires’ – have dangerous levels of contaminated soil as well as harmful water and air pollution.

That is why lawyers from ClientEarth have made a submission to the European Court of Human Rights in a case brought by Italian citizens against their government’s systematic failure to address environmental pollution.

Prolonged poisoning of the environment can be a violation of human rights.

Irmina Kotiuk is a lawyer working in our Brussels office. She said: “Environmental pollution is a threat to life and health. Everyone should be allowed to protect themselves and their families from these risks – these are basic human rights.

“This is true not only for those experiencing health problems directly connected to the accumulation of so much waste, but also for people living nearby and experiencing the impacts of living in a polluted environment. In the long term, all pollution affects human health.”

The group of over 40 local residents, supported by local NGOs, argue that the Italian government consciously violated their rights to life and health as the authorities knew about the pollution, its risks and adverse effects, but did not take sufficient measures to address the problem.

The Italian government has already been found guilty of breaching EU waste rules by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2010 and 2014, but has continually failed to resolve the situation.

Environmental pollution – a preventable problem

Environmental pollution is estimated to be the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world, but people affected by this type of pollution often face several challenges when seeking compensation, such as detecting the pollution and identifying its source.

ClientEarth has been granted the right to submit independent expertise to the court to give an overview of the relevant international and European environmental principles and laws designed to address these challenges.

In its submission, ClientEarth highlighted the “principle of prevention” and the “precautionary principle”, which require authorities to take early action to tackle pollution that may expose the public to harm.

Irmina added: “Pollution to human health and the environment is often irreversible. That means Italy and all EU countries have an obligation to take action to protect people and the environment from the effects of environmental pollution.

“By not taking the necessary measures, the Italian authorities have failed to reasonably mitigate the direct and indirect risks to human life and health and have put their people in unnecessary and preventable danger.”

The European Court of Human Rights will wait to receive comments from all the parties involved before taking its decision.