López Ostra vs. Spain (Application no. 16798/90)

Complaint alleging the Spanish State’s failure to protect the home, private and family life of one of its citizens from the pollution caused by a waste treatment facility; violation of the right to respect for home, private and family life; relationship between the right to a healthy environment and the right to respect for private life, home and family life; state accountability for actions by private companies in its jurisdiction.

Date of the Ruling: 
Dec 9 1994
European Court of Human Rights
Type of Forum: 

On May 14, 1990, Gregoria López Ostra filed a report before the European Commission on Human Rights against the Spanish State. She claimed that the State’s failure to take any measures against the smell, noise and contaminating smokes originated in a solid and liquid waste treatment plant located a few meters away from her home violated her rights to physical integrity (Article 3 of European Convention on Human Rights) and to respect for the home and private life (Article 8 of the Convention). On August 31, 1993, the Commission stated there was a violation of the right to respect for the home and private life, but not of the right to physical integrity. In December of the same year, the Commission referred the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which affirmed the findings of the Commission. The ECHR considered that neither the claimant’s moving out nor the closing down of the waste treatment plant changed the fact that the claimant and her family had lived for years a few meters away from a source of smell and smokes. The ECHR found the State responsible for violating the right to respect for the home and private life, since serious pollution can impact an individual’s well-being and prevent him or her from enjoying his or her home in such a way that his or her private and family life is damaged. The European Court further stated that the State had failed to find an adequate balance between its interest to promote the city’s economic development and the claimant’s effective enjoyment of her rights, ordering the State to pay compensation for damages caused and judicial costs. The ECHR however held that the conditions suffered did not amount to degrading treatment as stated in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Keywords: López Ostra vs. Spain (Application no. 16798/90), Environmental, Right

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

The government of Spain, within the time-limit set by the Court, paid the applicant the sum provided for in the judgment of 9 December 1994. The Committee of Ministers declared that, after having taken note of the information supplied by the Spanish Government, Spain has exercised its functions under Article 54 of the Convention in this case.

Groups involved in the case: 

Claimant: Gregoria López Ostra Defendant: Spanish State

Significance of the Case: 

This case is very significant because it shows the interdependence between civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other hand. In many cases, protecting civil rights, such as the right to private and family life, and to respect for the home, involves also protecting economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to a healthy environment and the right to health. The European Court ruled that “severe environmental pollution may affect individuals’ well-being and prevent them from enjoying their homes in such a way as to affect their private and family life adversely.”

The case reveals a successful strategy to claim economic, social and cultural rights through civil and political rights where the regional human rights system does not provide an effective protection of economic, social and cultural rights.