Testing limited environmental liability against human rights requirements

3 / 2009
Armelle Gouritin


Questions regarding oil spills remain high on the political agenda. Legal scholars, legislators as well as the international, European and national Courts struggle to determine key issues, such as who is to be held liable for oil spills, under which conditions and for which damage.

The international regime on oil spills was meant to establish an “equilibrium” between the needs of the victims (being compensated for their harm) and the needs of the economic actors (being able to continue their activities). There is, however, a constantly increasing array of legal scholars’ work that criticizes the regime. Indeed, the victims of a recent oil spill, the Erika, have tried to escape the international regime on oil spills and to rely instead on the provisions of national criminal law or EC waste legislation. In parallel, the EC legislator has questioned the sufficiency of the international regime, as it has started preparing legislative acts of its own. One can in fact wonder whether challenging the international liability regime with the European Convention on Human Rights could prove to be a way forward, both for the EC regulators as well as the victims of oil spills. This paper claims that the right to property, as enshrined in Article P1-1 of the Human Rights Convention, could be used to challenge the limited environmental liability provisions of the international frameworks.

About the author

Armelle Gouritin is a Ph.D. researcher at the Institute for European Studies. In her Ph.D., she focuses on the substantive interplay between EC environmental responsibility directives on the one hand, and international environmental law and the European Court on Human Rights’ case law on the other. The author warmly thanks Lawrence Steenstra and Claire Roche Kelly from the IES for all the time and work they kindly devoted for this paper to be published.