Enabling the ICC to address Crimes against the Environment

buring oil wells 

The large-scale intentional destruction of the environment during times of war should be made a crime under international law, according to a new book by a legal expert at the University of Western Sydney.

UWS Professor of International Law, Steven Freeland, a former Visiting Professional within the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court, has proposed a new international crime – 'Crimes against the Environment' - to address the deliberate destruction of natural habitats.

The crime, explained in detail in Professor Freeland's new book Addressing the Intentional Destruction of the Environment, would allow the ICC to prosecute in cases of excessive environmental damage during war.

Under Professor Freeland's proposal, Crimes against the Environment would address environmental destruction that 'shocks the conscience of humanity'.

"As we reflect on the 70th anniversary of the two atomic bombs in Japan, it is important to carefully assess the need to criminalise deliberate environmental destruction as a strategy of warfare. The existing international rules have largely been ineffective and inappropriate, and have in practical terms done little to deter deliberate environmental destruction, particularly when measured against perceived military advantages," says Professor Freeland.

"For example, during the first Gulf War, the retreating Iraqi army deliberately set alight almost 800 oil wells and polluted the gulf with millions of barrels of oil. The situation was likened to 'Dante's Inferno', and the environmental destruction caused by these actions was potentially catastrophic."

"We need to prevent situations where the natural environment is intentionally targeted as a 'victim', or is somehow manipulated to serve as a 'weapon' of warfare. Under the proposed new crime, the ICC would have an appropriate tool to bring the perpetrators of such actions to justice."

Professor Freeland's book Addressing the Intentional Destruction of the Environment will be launched at an event (opens in a new window) at the offices of King & Wood Mallesons, 1 Farrer Place, Sydney at 6pm on Monday 17 August.

Joining Professor Freeland to discuss the environmental challenges of warfare will be Professor Don Henry from the Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne, who was formerly the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Conservation Foundation.


10 August 2015

Mark Smith, Senior Media Officer

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