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Justice finally triumphed – Court passed a judgment in favour of the nature conservationalists on the case of the Devetaki Cave

Justice finally triumphed – Court passed a judgment in favour of the nature conservationalists on the case of the Devetaki Cave

23.02.2012
The administrative proceeding was initiated after a complaint sent by the Green Balkans NGO against the two acts, which RIEW Pleven issued to permit the filming of the famous Hollywood production here. The process was initiated after many signals sent to our organization by numerous citizens.

Let us remind you that in November 2011 citizens, experts on bats, speleologists and non-government organizations alarmed the state institutions that the filming of the Expendables 2 in the Devetaki Cave not only had an extremely detrimental effect on the wintering bats in it but is also in violation of numerous pieces of legislation.
What followed was a fierce dispute of the environmentalists and MoEW and RIEW Pleven and a genuine “media wars” on the case, awaiting for the judgment of the Court…
  • According to the current judgment of the Court http://www.ac-pleven.org/docs/cases/d02_2012/04912612.htm “...the administrative authority (RIEW Pleven in this case) has enacted activities, which are incompatible with the aim of the Protected Areas Act”. This proves the case of the environmentalists, who claimed that RIEW has violated this main nature conservation piece of legislation, which has a “key role” considering the activities allowed within the protected area.
  • The Court judged that the movie company has neither been an owner nor a user of the protected area and is therefore outside the scope of the legal arguments, used by RIEW Pleven to cohere in line with paragraph 7, in relation to article 11 of the Protected Areas Act. This means that the film company has illegally received permission to film in the cave.
  • The Court enacted that considering the fact that the cave fall within two protected zones of the NATURA 2000 network, RIEW Pleven should have launched a compatibility assessment in accordance with Article 31 of the Biodiversity Act. Considering the judgment of the Court, RIEW Pleven has violated not only the Protected Areas Act but also the Biodiversity Act, as well as Article 6 (3) of 92/43/EEC Directive. This means that RIEW Pleven in complete violation of the operating legislation has “skipped” one of the legal steps , which is intended to guarantee that no damage on the species and habitats of European significance would be incurred.
  • According to the Court, “NOT implementing the obligatory procedure within the coherence procedure, the authority has allowed a significance violation of the administrative rules and regulations…”. This way, the Court, being the authority which interprets the law, refutes the statements of the director of RIEW Pleven that the actions of RIEW Pleven had been administratively and legally grounded.
“Violating Article 31 of the Biodiversity Act, RIEW Pleven derived the public of the option of addressing the Court before the start of the filming activities”, adds Dobromir Dobrinov from Green Balkans. According to him, had the acts been published by RIEW, as required by Article 31 of the Biodiversity Act, a chance for filing a timely appeal would have been granted to the environmentalists. This would have not allowed for the crew to proceed until the proceedings were still running and the movie would have not been filmed.

RIEW is the institution called upon the Law to guarantee its observance” said Elena Stoeva from Green Balkans. “What is most concerning is the fact that the institution in charge of observing the law is violating it”.

Despite that, the current decision of the Court can be welcomed as a great success of civic society due to several reasons:
  • It confirms that the claims of RIEW and MoEW that there have not been illegal activities ARE WRONG;
  • It proves that the experts and representatives of NGOs, accused of speculations by MoEW, WERE RIGHT;
  • It confirms that the public, represented by civic organizations has the legal right to act as a referee and a controlling authority of state institutions, where there are signs that the Bulgarian legislation has been violated (the Court practically refuted the arguments of the attorneys of RIEW Pleven and New Boyana Viburno Film that Green Balkans as a public nature conservation organization has no “legal interest” and cannot appeal the decisions of RIEW. On the contrary, the decision of the Court proves that any public organization, related to nature conservation has the right to appeal decisions, made in violation of the nature conservation legislation).
Despite the fact that the judgment of the Court came out too late to lead to ceasing the ALREADY CONFIRMED-TO-BE-ILLEGAL ACTIONS, this case is an important precedent in the history of the efforts for conserving the caves of Bulgaria.

We hope that the decision of the Court would lead to revision of the position of MoEW on the case and punishing the responsible entities – something which NGOs and experts have been asking for from the very beginning.

This however does not close the case of the Devetaki Cave. The signals, sent to the European Commission and the Bern Convention are still being processed. Let us remind you that by the end of February the European Commission is expecting the official answer of the Bulgarian authorities for their response on the case of the Devetaki Cave to be able to then come up with a motivated decision whether to cease the examination or launch an official punishment procedure against the state. The decision of the Administrative Court of Pleven clearly shows that there has been a violation of the Directive so the state would probably bear significant negatives out of violating the national and European nature conservation legislation.

There is still a lot ahead of us”, shares Boyan Petrov from the Bat Research and Protection Centre at BAS. “Our aim is to change the Bulgarian legislation in a way which would guarantee the conservation of both bats and caves”. Experts will therefore send their proposals to MoEW and the Parliament for amending the Biodiversity Act and approving new legislation texts to guarantee the conservation of these extraordinary landscape objects which also host unique and vulnerable biodiversity.

As a conclusion, let us express our genuine gratitude to the Administrative Court of Pleven for the judgment which happens to be a serious step towards strengthening legality and bears important interpretation of laws, which would prevent similar violations in the future.

For more information please contact:
Dobromir Dobrinov – Green Balkans; mobile phone: +359 884004667; е-mail: ddobrinov@greenbalkans.org


Photo credit: Svilen Delchev, Cave Club Heraklit
Full chronology (in Bulgarian) 212,00 KB b (doc) download
The judgment of the Court (in Bulgarian) 124,37 KB b (txt) download