William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


Reeana Keenen


A news report from April 2017 that compiled data from South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen stated that each country is either experiencing famine or on the brink. These countries and their link to famine is not coincidental: each country is either in the midst of current armed conflict or trying to piece itself back together following an armed conflict. For example, in South Sudan, violent clashes between South Sudan’s army and a rebel militia resulted in the “razing and burning [of] entire villages.”

Famine and other environmental harms are common in pre- and post-conflict countries, often worsened by the conflict itself. In many cases, natural resources may even be the cause of the conflict, such as in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”). With the advent of the Paris Climate Agreement, the international community has sought to decrease global environmental degradation. However, current international environmental policy fails to account for the unique challenges post-conflict countries face in reducing their negative impacts on the environment because these policies do not address armed conflict as both an underlying cause of harm to the environment and a major impediment to its protection.

As awareness of increasing environmental degradation reaches the mainstream, the international community has attempted to ameliorate the effects of human activity on the environment. International approaches, such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, have treated countries enveloped in conflict the same as stable, secure nations, thus failing to recognize the role conflict plays in the destruction of natural resources.

Using the DRC as a case study, this Note will argue that the international community should increase judicial capacity to prosecute crimes related to the armed conflict in the DRC as a means of reducing environmental harm resulting from the conflict. Part I of this Note will explore the connection between armed conflict and environmental degradation globally and particularly in the DRC. Part II shows why current international approaches to environmental protection in post-conflict countries are inadequate. Part III argues that building judicial capacity to prosecute conflict-related crimes is the most effective means of preventing environmental harms in post-conflict countries. Specifically, Part III analyzes the merits of different non-prosecutorial and prosecutorial approaches to capacity building, and ultimately concludes that hybrid tribunals are the best method to build judicial capacity. Finally, Part IV uses the DRC as a case study of how a hybrid model could best be employed in postconflict countries to maximize tribunals’ capacity building effects.