ICCPR Case Digest

CCPR/C/126/D/2751/2016

Communication

2751/2016

Submission: 2013.09.30

View Adopted: 2019.07.25

Norma Portillo Cáceres and others v. Paraguay

Spraying of toxic agrochemicals on adjoining property reveals a violation of the right to life, arbitrary interference with home life and right to effective remedy

Substantive Issues
  • Arbitrary interference with family
  • Effective remedy
  • Interference with one's home
  • Right to life
  • Torture / ill-treatment
Relevant Articles
  • Article 17
  • Article 2.3
  • Article 6
  • Article 7
Full Text

Facts

The authors are twelve Paraguayan nationals who claimed that the State party has violated their rights under articles 6, 7, and 17 of the Covenant, read alone and in conjunction with article 2(3). One of the authors, Norma Portillo Cáceres, submitted the claim on her own behalf and on behalf of her deceased brother, Rubén Portillo Cáceres.

The authors engaged in family farming for their own consumption and sale in Colonia Yerutí, a small settlement of State-owned land established in 1991 which has been distributed to campesinos under the agrarian reform program. The authors noted that in 2011, no more than 400 people resided in the settlement due to emigration prompted by the lack of decent living conditions, including poor access to public services, repeated crop fumigation with toxic agrochemicals and the increasing contamination of waterways in the area. Since 2005, the area has seen a rapid increase in agribusiness, and plantations often breach domestic regulations in terms of density and location. The failure of the State to monitor and enforce regulation relating to the industry has been cited has a major justification for businesses to continue to act in this manner. 

The author’s homes are located on the south-eastern border of Colonia Yerutí and border industrial farms both inside and outside the settlement. The authors submitted that the increasing large-scale use of toxic agrochemicals has had a severe impact on the authors’ living conditions, livelihoods and health, noting that contaminated water resources and aquifers have rendered it impossible to use nearby natural resources. Since the agribusiness increase in 2005, the authors submit that they have experienced a range of physical symptoms following the fumigation spraying, including nausea, dizziness, headaches, fever, stomach pains, vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing and skin lesions. The authors noted that every year they lodge complaints with various ministerial, administrative and judicial authorities however have never received a reply.

On 3 January 2011, Mr. Portillo Cáceres began experiencing vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and general discomfort. Over the coming days his condition continued to worsen, and his family took him to a district hospital in Curuguaty, however he passed away while en route and was unable to be revived at the hospital. Between 8 and 14 January, 22 other inhabitants of the settlement were hospitalised after experiencing similar symptoms. 

Following the death of Mr. Portillo Cáceres and the poisoning of members of the community, the authors lodged a complaint with the district prosecutor’s office, resulting in criminal charges being brought against seven individuals. However, following a hearing in June 2013, the criminal court stayed the proceedings in September 2013. 

The authors also filed a writ of amparo against four government agencies responsible for environmental protection, and a District Court ordered the institutions to carry out their assigned functions. However, no steps have been taken to enforce the decision. 

Complaint

  • The authors submitted that the State party has failed to provide the required protections necessary to comply with the obligation to protect the authors’ right to life. They claimed that it has allowed extensive spraying of toxic agrochemicals in breach of the law, 
  • The authors also submitted that their rights under article 17 have been violated owing to the State’s failure to enforce regulation which would limit the environmental pollution which has caused an unlawful and arbitrary interference with their privacy and family. The authors claimed that the State bears culpa in vigilando in its failure to enforce the laws. 
  • Finally, the authors claim that the State party has violated their right to an effective legal remedy on the basis that the environmental pollution which poisoned the authors and led to the death of Mr. Portillo Cáceres has not been the object of an effective, appropriate, impartial or diligent investigation. 

Merits

The Committee noted the authors claim that the events presented constitute a violation by omission of article 6 of the Covenant, in respect of both Mr. Portillo Cáceres who died while exhibiting symptoms of pesticide poisoning and the authors themselves, due to the state party’s failure to provide protection. 

The Committee noted that a narrow interpretation of article 6 not properly convey the full protection available under the Covenant, and further recalled its General Comment No. 36, which provides that the right to life entitles “individuals to enjoy a life with dignity and to be free from acts or omissions that would cause their unnatural or premature death”.[1]Further, “States parties should take all appropriate measures to address the general conditions in society that may give rise to threats to the right to life or prevent individuals from enjoying their right to life with dignity”, which includes threats from environmental pollution.[2]

In the present case, the Committee found that heavily spraying the area with toxic agrochemicals posed a reasonably foreseeable to the authors’ lives given that such large-scale fumigation bas contaminated the area in which the authors live, the rivers in which they fish, the water that they drink and the produce which they eat. Despite numerous complaints and motions filed, the fumigation continued. On this basis, and in view of the acute poisoning suffered by the authors and of the death of Mr. Portillo Cáceres, the Committee found a violation of article 6 of the Covenant. 

In light of this, the Committee did not consider whether the facts disclosed a violation of article 7.

The Committee also considered the authors claim that the farm animals, crops, fruit trees, water resources, fish and crops constituted components of their privacy, family life and homes, and that the State party’s failure to enforce the environmental standards constituted an arbitrary interference on their rights under article 17. On this, the Committee recalled that the term “home” is to be interpreted as a place where a person resides or carries out his or her usual occupation, and further that the aforementioned elements constitute components of the way of life of the authors, owing to their attachment to and dependency on the land (General Comment No. 16).[3] On this basis, the Committee found that they can be considered to fall within the protection of article 17. Owing to the pollution that has had a direct repercussion on the author’s right to private and family life, the Committee found that the events disclosed a violation of article 17 of the Covenant.

Finally, the Committee turned to the issue of an effective remedy. In particular, the Committee noted that the agribusiness activity resulted in violations was never subject to criminal investigations, and that the writ of amparo which was granted was never put into effect. On this basis, and on the basis of the multiple failings of the State party, the authors have not received any redress for eight years, revealing a violation of article 2(3) read in conjunction with articles 6 and 17 of the Covenant.


[1] Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 36, para. 3.

[2] Ibid, para. 26.

[3] Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 16 (1998) on the right to privacy, para. 5. 

Recommendations

Pursuant to article 2 (3) (a) of the Covenant, the State party is under an obligation to provide the author with an effective remedy. The Committee requested that Paraguay make full reparation to individuals whose Covenant rights have been violated. Accordingly, the State party is obligated, inter alia to:

  • undertake an effective, thorough investigation into the events in question;
  • impose criminal and administrative penalties on all the parties responsible for the events in the present case;
  • make full reparation, including adequate compensation, to the authors for the harm they have suffered;
  • take steps to ensure that similar violations do not occur in the future.

Implementation

The Committee requested that the State party provide an update outlining measures taken to give effect to the Committee's views within 180 days, or prior to 25 January 2020.

Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee

Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee CCPR/C/3/Rev.10

Arabic | Chinese | English | French | Russian | Spanish

CCPR NGO Participation

Documents adopted by the Human Rights Committee (March 2012)

English | French | Spanish | Russian | Handbook

CCPR NHRI Participation

Documents adopted by the Human Rights Committee (November 2012)

English | French | Spanish | Russian | Arabic | Chinese