Legal Liability for Environmental Damage: The United Nations Compensation Commission and the 1990–1991 Gulf War
Governance, Natural Resources, and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, ed. C. Bruch, C. Muffett, and S. S. Nichols. London: Earthscan, 2016
43 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2017
Date Written: 2016
The United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) adapted the traditional bilateral compensation model to address the substantial environmental damage that resulted from the 1990–1991 Gulf War. Exercising its authority under chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the UN Security Council established the UNCC to provide financial compensation for losses resulting from Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The Commission reviewed over 2.6 million claims from individuals, corporations, international organizations, and governments seeking a total of approximately US$352 billion in compensation for a wide range of losses. By declaring Iraq liable for the environmental damage caused by its invasion and occupation of Kuwait, Security Council Resolution 687 recognized environmental harm as a compensable loss for the first time in international law and establish legal accountability for protection of the common natural heritage.
The UNCC proved to be an innovative institution that implemented a law-based approach to the transition from conflict to peace and to the restoration of war-damaged environmental resources. The aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait points to several measures that can be used to advance peacebuilding, environmental integrity, and respect for international law. The more than US$5 billion in environmental damage that was verified and valued by the UNCC is a strong argument for preventive measures. This point is strengthened by the severity of the damage to coastal and desert areas, where recovery will be long, slow, and incomplete. Preventive measures should include more stringent legal prohibitions on attacks on the environment and natural resources, stronger social values emphasizing stewardship, and more effective prevention and response mechanisms. To ensure that post-conflict environmental assessment and remediation occurs, consistent use should be made of international compensation institutions. An international standing fund — which would be replenished by levies on the belligerents — should be established to finance timely response and cleanup. Such an international fund and compensation regime should demand transparency from all participants, with respect to both proceedings and any research produced as a result of the program’s work. Early attention to the human population is appropriate as a step in the recovery of traumatized nations, but long-term planning to mend the environment must be part of the basic peacebuilding model.
Keywords: PERAC, State Responsibility, Armed Conflict, Environmental Law, International Tribunals, UNCC, UN Compensation Commission
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