Categories
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
Access to a remedy Austria Children and young people Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights France Italy Non-discrimination Norway Paris Agreement Portugal Private and family life Right to life Switzerland Turkey

De Conto and Uricchio v. Italy and 32 other States

Summary:
Climatecasechart.com has reported that two further cases in the style of the Duarte Agostinho application have been brought before the European Court of Human Rights, this time by two young people from Italy. The cases were brought against 33 Council of Europe Member States, and refer to storms, forest fires and heat waves experienced by the applicants, as well as associated physical and psychological distress. The applicants, two women aged 18 and 20 at the time of filing, invoked Articles 2, 8, 13 and 14. They made arguments about the positive obligations to protect against environmental harm under Articles 2 and 8 ECHR, discrimination against younger generations, and a lack of access to effective domestic remedies given the excessive burden of being required to bring domestic proceedings in 33 States.

The application forms in these cases have not been made publicly available, and the cases had not yet been communicated by the Court at the time of writing (last update: August 2022). Further details on these cases are accordingly not yet available. More information will be published as it becomes available.

More information (via climatecasechart.com):

On the De Conto case.

On the Uricchio case.

Suggested citation:

ECtHR, De Conto v. Italy and 32 other States, application no. 14620/21, submitted on 3 March 2021.

ECtHR, Uricchio v. Italy and 32 other States, application no. 14615/21, submitted on 3 March 2021.

Categories
Adaptation Business responsibility Domestic court Emissions reductions Sea-level rise Switzerland

Edy Mulyono and three others v. Holcim AG

Summary:
On 11 July 2022, a case was filed with the conciliation authority in the Swiss canton of Zug concerning the greenhouse gas emissions of the corporate cement giant Holcim AG. The case was brought by four Indonesian nationals, who live on the island of Pari and earn their livelihoods through fishing and tourism. Inspired by the RWE case, they argue that rising sea levels and floods, which are all caused or aggravated by climate change, are threatening their livelihoods. The cement industry is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, currently emitting approximately 8% of yearly global CO2 emissions. and Holcim is the market leader in this sector. On this basis, the plaintiffs seek compensation from Holcim for the damage to their property and for future damages. They also seek adaptation measures to protect themselves against future impacts, and argue that Holcim should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43% (compared to 2019 levels) by 2030, and 69% by 2040. This demands more rapid change than what is foreseen by the company’s own commitment to achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

Background of the claim:
The claim concerns the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the cement industry, which are largely made up of direct emissions. In a press conference, representatives for NGOs supporting the plaintiffs noted that 3/4 of Holcim’s emissions are direct emissions, as opposed to the largely indirect emissions created by the fossil fuel industry. The plaintiffs’ claim is based on references to climate attribution science, including reports by the IPCC, and the findings by the US Climate Accountability Institute that Holcim is responsible for .42% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1751.

With the support of Swiss Church Aid HEKS/EPER, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the Indonesian environmental organization WALHI, the plaintiffs are invoking Swiss civil law, more specifically a violation of their personality rights and, tort law to argue that their human rights have been violated through the effects of the company’s emissions and that even more severe violations are forthcoming if Holcim does not reduce its emissions. They argue that the company should assume historical responsibility for its past emissions, but also future responsibility in the sense of rapidly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Expected further developments:
As required under procedural law, the case has been brought as a request for arbitration. Arbitration proceedings are expected to commence in the fall of 2022. If the efforts at arbitration do not succeed in reaching a mutually agreeable solution, the case may proceed as a civil claim.

Further information:
For a press release on the case, see here.

For more information, see the dossier compiled by the supporting NGOs here.

Categories
2022 Austria Belgium Cyprus Denmark European Court of Human Rights France Germany Greece Luxembourg Private and family life Right to life Sweden Switzerland The Netherlands The United Kingdom

Five Young People v. France, Germany, the UK, and 9 other States

Summary:
On 21 June 2022, the Guardian reported that an application had been filed at the European Court of Human Rights concerning membership in the Energy Charter Treaty of 1994 (ECT), which entered into force in 1998. The case was brought by five young people, aged between 17 and 31, who allege that the 12 respondent States’ membership of the ECT stymies climate action, thereby violating their rights under Articles 2 (right to life) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) ECHR.

Reuters reports that the 12 respondent States in this case are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain. In these States, corporate actors in the fossil fuel sector can bring legal action against the respective governments for losses of profits due to energy-related measures, thereby raising the costs of the green energy transition or making it illusory. The applicants argue that their Convention rights have been violated as a result.

In this regard, the IPCC pointed out in Chapter 14 of its 6th Assessment Report in 2022 that “bilateral and multilateral agreements, including the 1994 Energy Charter Treaty, include provisions for using a system of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) designed to protect the interests of investors in energy projects from national policies that could lead their assets to be stranded. Numerous scholars have pointed to ISDS being able to be used by fossil-fuel companies to block national legislation aimed at phasing out the use of their assets”. It also noted that “international investment agreements may lead to ‘regulatory chill’, which may lead to countries refraining from or delaying the adoption of mitigation policies, such as phasing out fossil fuels”.

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.  

Categories
Elderly Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights Fair trial Keywords Margin of appreciation Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to life Switzerland Victim status

Verein KlimaSeniorinnen et al. v. Switzerland

Summary:
In 2016, the Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland (German: ‘Verein KlimaSeniorinnen’), a Swiss organisation, brought proceedings concerning the alleged omissions of the Swiss federal government to adopt an adequate climate protection policy. They submitted that current domestic climate targets and measures are not sufficient to limit global warming to a safe level. This failure to prevent climate-related disasters, they argue, represents a failure to protect the enjoyment of the rights under Articles 2 and 8 ECHR (the rights to life and respect for private and family life, respectively) of the organization’s members. The applicants also invoke two procedural rights under the Convention, namely the rights in Articles 6 and 13 ECHR (right to a fair trial and right to an effective remedy, respectively).

These claims were rejected by the domestic instances at three levels of jurisdiction. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court, in its ruling, considered that the case represented an actio popularis, concerned questions better suited to the political arena, and did not raise an arguable claim of a rights violation.

This case was only the second climate change-related case to come to Strasbourg. Like the Duarte Agostinho case, this application raises novel questions before the Court, including the issue of victim status in climate cases, the standing of (environmental) NGOs to bring cases to the Court, and the extent of the State margin of appreciation in regard to environmental protection measures related to climate change.

Third-party interventions:
There have been several third party interventions in this case.

For the full text of the joint intervention by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Swiss Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-CH), click here.

For the full text of the third-party intervention submitted by the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI), click here.

For the seven other third party interventions filed in the case, click here.

Admissibility:

Pending

Merits:

Pending

Remedies:

Pending

Separate opinions:

Pending

Implementation measures taken:

N/A

Date of decision:

Pending

Type of Forum:

Regional

Status of case:

Communicated to the respondent State on 17 March 2021

Suggested case citation:

ECtHR,Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, no. 53600/20, Communicated Case, 17 March 2021

Links:

Categories
Austria Belgium Bulgaria Children and young people Croatia Cyprus Czechia Denmark Emissions reductions Estonia European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights Finland France Germany Greece Hungary Ireland Italy Latvia Lithuania Luxembourg Malta Non-discrimination Norway Paris Agreement Poland Portugal Private and family life Prohibition of torture Right to life Romania Russian Federation Slovakia Slovenia Spain Sweden Switzerland The Netherlands The United Kingdom Turkey Ukraine

Duarte Agostinho et al. v. Austria et al.

Summary:
This case was brought by a group of six young people, acting together as the ‘Youth for Climate Justice’, against 33 Council of Europe Member States. Theirs is the first climate case to come before the ECtHR. In their application, the six applicants, who are aged between 8 and 21, argue that the 33 respondent States have failed to comply with their positive obligations under Articles 2 and 8 of the Convention, read in the light of the commitments made under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. They claim that their right to life (Art. 2 ECHR) is being threatened by the effects of climate change in their home State of Portugal, including through the harms caused by forest fires. Moreover, they claim that their right to respect for their private and family life under Art. 8 ECHR is being threatened by heatwaves that force them to spend more time indoors. They also note their anxiety about their uncertain future, and the fact that, as young people, they stand to experience the worst effects of climate change. They accordingly allege a violation of Article 14 ECHR (non-discrimination), given the particular impacts of climate change on their generation. According to the applicants, the absence of adequate measures to limit global emissions constitutes, in itself, a breach of the obligations incumbent on States.

This is the first climate application brought before the European Court of Human Rights, and it was brought with the support of the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN). The issues raised here are novel in the Strasbourg context. In addition, in communicating the case, the Court also proprio motu raised an issue under Article 3 ECHR, the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

Domestic proceedings:
None, this case was brought directly to the ECtHR. The applicants submit that, given the complexity of the case and their limited financial means, requiring them to exhaust the domestic remedies in each of the 33 respondent States would impose an excessive and disproportionate burden on them.

Relinquishment:

On 29 June 2022, the 7-judge Chamber to which the case had been allocated relinquished jurisdiction over it in favour of the Court’s 17-judge Grand Chamber. Relinquishment is possible where a case either (a) raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention or its Protocols, or (b) might lead to a result inconsistent with the Court’s case-law (Rule 72, paras 1-2 of the Rules of Court).

Admissibility:
Pending

Merits:
Pending

Remedies:
Pending

Separate opinions:
Pending

Implementation measures taken:
N/A

Date:
Pending

Type of Forum:
Regional

Status of case:
Communicated by the Court on 30 November 2020. Relinquished to the Grand Chamber on 29 June 2022.

Suggested case citation:
ECtHR, Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and 32 Other Member States, no. 39371/20, Communicated Case, 30 November 2020, relinquished to the Grand Chamber on 29 June 2022.

Links:

For more information on the case, see the following links.

  • For more background on the case and profiles on the applicants, click here: https://youth4climatejustice.org/
  • For the original application for as submitted to the Court, click here
  • To see all of the third party interventions filed in the case to date (eight in total), click here.
  • To read the observations of the 33 respondent states in this case, click here.