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Climate activists and human rights defenders European Court of Human Rights Right to assembly and association Right to freedom of expression Switzerland

Lausanne Action Climate v. Switzerland

Summary:

On 5 November 2011, four climate activists submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights challenging the Swiss Federal Supreme Court’s dismissal of their appeals of criminal convictions concerning the occupation of the premises of the Lausanne branch of Credit Suisse bank in 2018. The applicants invoked the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Articles 10 and 11 ECHR.

On November 22, 2018, twelve activists occupied the bank’s lobby for one hour. Disguised as Roger Federer, the bank’s ambassador, they engaged in a wild game of tennis to denounce the banking giant’s investments in fossil fuels. The applicants were charged with trespassing and acquitted at first instance, but later found guilty on appeal by the Public Prosecutor of the canton of Vaud. The applicants invoked a provision in the Swiss Penal Code with permits illegal actions under certain conditions, i.e. under conditions of lawful necessity given imminent danger. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court did not agree with this argumentation, noting that the activists also had legal methods at their disposal in order to draw attention to the climate crisis.

Context:

Although it has not yet specifically considered the right to protest or to civil disobedience in the context of climate change, the European Court of Human Rights has extensive case-law on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. For example, in the case of Bumbeș v. Romania, it found a violation of these rights when an activist was fined for handcuffing himself to a government car park barrier in protest against a mining project. Here, the Court noted that, while States have a margin of appreciation in this context, the imposition of sanctions in response to political expression can have a chilling effect on public speech.

More information:

The application form in this case has not been made publicly available. More information will be added here as it becomes available.

For media reports on this case, click here and here (in French).

Categories
2021 Deciding Body Domestic court European Convention on Human Rights Keywords Paris Agreement Right to assembly and association Right to freedom of expression Rights at stake State concerned Switzerland Year

Credit Suisse Climate Activists Trial (Geneva)

Summary:
On 13 October 2018, during a climate march in Geneva, a young climate activist from the collective “BreakFree Suisse” spread his hands smeared with red paint all over the facade of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse, leaving red handprints to denounce investments in fossil fuels. According to the climate activist, these red handprints symbolized the blood of the various victims of climate change.

On 20 February 2020, the activist was found guilty by the Tribunal de police (“Police Court”) for property damage.

On 14 October 2020, the Cour de Justice (“Court of Justice”) acquitted the climate activist and argued that the young man had acted in a putative state of necessity due to climate change.

A year later, on 28 September 2021, the Swiss Bundesgericht (“Federal Supreme Court”) overturned this decision and referred the case back to the Cour de Justice. The Bundesgericht argued that climate change and the resulting consequences do not represent an imminent danger to individual legal interests.

Consequently, on 31 March 2022, the Cour de Justice revised its first decision and ordered the climate activist to pay a symbolic fine of 100 Swiss francs as well as compensation for material damage.

In a similar case in Lausanne, climate activists from the same collective were on trial after occupying the entrance halls of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse.  

Rights invoked:
The activist invoked his rights to freedom of expression (Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)) and assembly and association (Article 11 ECHR).

The Swiss Bundesgericht held that Article 11 ECHR only protects the right to freedom of “peaceful assembly”. With his behavior, the young man committed an act of vandalism, which is incompatible with freedom of expression. Accordingly, the Court found that the activist could not rely on Articles 10 and 11 ECHR.  

Further proceedings:
It was reported that applications concerning both of these cases have been filed at the European Court of Human Rights.

Date:
28 September 2021

Suggested citation:
Swiss Bundesgericht, N.B. v. Credit Suisse, 6B_1310/2020, 6B_1298/2020, Judgment of 28 September 2021.

Links:
For the Federal Supreme Court’s judgment, see here.

For the Cour de justice’s second judgment, see here.

For the Cour de Justice’s first judgment, see here.

For the Tribunal de police’s judgment, see here.

Categories
2021 Deciding Body Domestic court European Convention on Human Rights Imminent risk Keywords Paris Agreement Right to assembly and association Right to freedom of expression Rights at stake State concerned Switzerland Year

Credit Suisse Climate Activists Trial (Lausanne)

Summary:
On 22 November 2018, a group of 20 to 30 climate activists from the collective “BreakFree Suisse”, among them the 12 complainants, occupied the entry halls of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse in Lausanne to demonstrate against the bank’s investment in fossil fuels. The protest aimed to draw attention to this issue by condemning the participation of the Swiss tennis player Roger Federer in the advertising campaign of this bank. To do so, the activists were dressed in sports clothes and staged a tennis match. While some activists complied with the police request to leave the premises, others had to be dragged out by the police.

The activists argued that they had been in a “justifiable state of emergency” (rechtfertigender Notstand) due to climate change and that their protest was therefore lawful.

On 13 January 2020, the Tribunal de police de l’arrondissement de Lausanne (“Police Court of the district of Lausanne”) ruled in favor of the protesters. The judge found that climate change posed an imminent threat and that the protest was therefore a necessary and proportionate means to achieve the activists’ intended goal.

On 22 September 2020, this decision was overruled by the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud (“Vaud Cantonal Tribunal”). The Court argued that the activists could have protested the bank by using other means, such as political or legal instruments. It further found that climate change is an imminent threat and that measures must be taken to address it. However, the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud doubted that the protest could have led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, it also noted that the Swiss government is aware of the issue and has already taken necessary measures, such as ratifying the Paris Agreement. Finally, the Court held that it is not yet too late to take the necessary protective measures to combat climate change.

On 26 May 2021, the Swiss Bundesgericht (“Swiss Federal Supreme Court”) mainly upheld the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud’s decision. It argued further that climate change may be considered an imminent threat and that the activists did not intend to protect a specific legal interest, but rather collective interests, namely the environment, health, or the well-being of the population, and thus, the protest was not lawful.

In a similar case in Geneva, a climate activist from the same collective was on trial after putting red handprints all over the front of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse.

Rights invoked:
The complainants invoked their rights to freedom of expression (Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)) and assembly and association (Article 11 ECHR).

The Swiss Bundesgericht argued that the complainants are not entitled to invoke Articles 10 and 11 ECHR in this context because they had no right to enter private property to take their actions. The freedom of assembly does not include the right to gather on private property without the owner’s consent. Consequently, the claimants could not rely on Articles 10 and 11 ECHR.

Date of decision:
26 May 2021

Suggested case citation:
Swiss Bundesgericht, 12 climate protesters v. ministère public central du canton de Vaud, 6B_1295/2020, Judgment of 26 May 2021.


Links:
For the judgment of the Swiss Bundesgericht (in French), see here.

For the judgment of the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud (in French), see here.

For the judgment of the Tribunal de police de l’arrondissement de Lausanne (in French), see here.