Last Black Friday I went shopping on my own to get some winter clothes and a strange thing happened. I was walking down the stairs with my coat, my handbag, a backpack and my school bag on wheels. I was struggling to keep my balance as people ran down stairs like a pack of buffalos running down hills. Blinded by their desired and driven by the capitalist dream of accumulating wealth through consumable items, they ran past me pushing me with indifferent. Despite my efforts, I stumbled and felt. I tumbled down the stairs like a rock losing its parts at every collapse. I found myself lying down the stairs with all of my belongings and books dispersed throughout the floor. People walked over it, they didn’t stop to help. They avoided my eye contact and continued walking as if I was never there. The same night, I shared my experience with my sister who is studying psychology at Concordia University. She explained to me I had been a witness of a sociopsychological phenomenon called “the diffusion of responsibility”, in which, people are less likely to take action or feel the sense of responsibility in presence of a large group. This is caused by the belief that the responsibility to intervene is shared by all the onlookers. This erroneous belief can provoke the “bystander effect”; where the more numerous the witnesses are, the less likely people will help an individual in distress.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon happens more often than what one would suspect. For instance, Global warming is a phenomenon that affects all countries worldwide. Yet, just a few of them actually act and try to avoid it. The large majority of people do not adopt an ecological lifestyle because there are so many people out there who can do it for them.
Fortunately, there are bold people who do not fear the size of the adversary and fight for their rights and those of the environment. The case of Taskin and other v. Turkey (2004) is a great example of this. The applicants were 10 Turkish nationals living in Bergama or in the surrounding villages. The case concerns the granting of a permit to operate a gold mine in Ovacik, in the district of Bergama. The company E.M. Euro gold Mdencilik obtained a permit to prospect for gold which was valid for 10 years. This permit authorised the company to use cyanide leaching process for gold extraction. The applicants and other inhabitants of Bergama asked for this permit to be set aside, explaining the dangers of the cyanidation process as the health risks and the pollution risks aquifers de destruction of the local ecosystem. The Supreme Court allowed it considering its geological location was not in accordance with the general interest, in view of the risks to the environment and human health. A year later the mine closed down. Two years after, an environmental impact study was made and the mine asked to renew the mine exploitation permit. The applicants questioned and opposed themselves to this procedure. The goldmine was granted “as a principle” the right to continue its activities.
This case was therefore brought to the European Court of Human Rights by the applicants for the violation of the articles 1, 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court noticed that the granting of the mine’s operative permit was not in accordance with the applicants’ effective enjoyment of the right to life and to a healthy environment. The Court considered that the authorities had deprived the procedural safeguards protecting the applicants guaranteeing their right to their private and family life. The Court concluded unanimously that there has been a violation to the article 8 of the Convention.
In the same way, “The Court noticed the administrative authorities’ refusal to comply with the court decisions and domestic legislation, and the lack of a decision, based on a new environmental-impact report, to take the place of the one which had been set aside by the courts. (..) The Court also considered that the Turkish authorities had failed to comply effectively and within a reasonable time with the judgment given by the Izmir Administrative” Behavior, that affected the applicant’s right to have a fair trial. The Court agreed unanimously there had been a violation of the convention in that regard.
Finally, I would like to thank the applicants who fought for their rights, for those of their community while protecting the surrounding ecosystem. It is an admirable thing to do, especially when the opponent has more political and economic influence than oneself. Let us not become a pack of buffalos running without a purpose, drowned in indifference ignoring the “bystander effect”. Let us not blindly follow the pack, but dare to take action. Let us evolve beyond the diffusion of responsibility and defy such tendency. I would like to invite all of those who want a better world to take action against global warming and environmental deterioration!
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.
*The Court’s judgments are accessible on its Internet site (http://www.echr.coe.int).