Professor Steven Freeland

Last week Professor Steven Freeland launched his new book entitled: “Addressing the Intentional Destruction of the Environment during Warfare under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court” (Intersentia ISBN 978-1-78068-314-0) at the Peace Palace. The book elaborates on the ongoing debate regarding Crimes against the Environment during Armed Conflicts. Professor Freeland underlines the need for all combatants to respect the environment during warfare, because of its importance for sustaining life also after the conflict has ended. We had the opportunity to interview this inspiring Professor before his book promotion tour through the rest of Europe; on the condition that we had to call him Steven!

Q: Why did you choose the Peace Palace as a venue for your book presentation?

A: “The book is about using law to good effect and to address the imperative for us all to respect the environment. The Peace Palace is the appropriate place, because the book is about regulating the conduct of warfare and instituting justice. Historically, the deliberate destruction of the environment has largely been regarded as an incidental consequence of warfare. This must change. When one talks about peace, one must also be conscious of the state of the environment. There is a clear link between the environment and International Peace and Security.”

“It is important that we think of the environment as a victim too, and introduce appropriate criminal sanctions to heighten further the considerations that the military gives to the environmental consequences of their actions.”

Q: What is your opinion about the current legal protection of the Environment during Armed Conflict and how it is addressed to today?

A: “International Criminal Law (ICL), if utilized in an appropriate way, can be a good tool to protect the environment during armed conflict, but the current legal regime makes it (very) difficult – almost impossible – to meet the required thresholds so as to find someone guilty of the intentional destruction of the environment during warfare. One reason for this, among others, is that, typically, such actions are always to be balanced against the perceived military advantage arising from such actions.”

“Most certainly the existing provision in the International Criminal Court Statute that deals with damage to the environment – the war crime set out in article 8(2)(b)(iv) –  is not adequate or appropriate to meet the imperative to prosecute such actions.”

Q: What do you propose (or suggest)?

A: “Having concluded that the existing law is inadequate, and to promote further the debate about sanctions that would apply to the intentional destruction of the environment during warfare, I propose in my book the incorporation of a newly codified crime – ‘crimes against the environment’ – in the ICC Statute.”

Q: Can you give us a few examples of Crimes against the Environment during Warfare?

A: “Yes, there are many historical examples that were not treated as crimes against the environment. but would now fall within the scope of the crime that I have drafted. For example, during the 1991 Gulf War, the retreating Iraqi forces deliberately ignited about 780 oil wells in Kuwait and dumped oil from several tankers into the Persian Gulf. One could also think about the draining of the Qurna Marshes, an irrigation project in Southern Iraq, which forced about 500,000 Marsh Arabs out of the area. Another well-known example was the use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War to destroy upwards of 40% of the natural foliage of the area.”

Q: What do you mean with the Intentional Destruction of the Environment?

A: “It is important when drafting any crime to carefully specify the mental element of the crime.  Intentional destruction of the environment in the crime I have suggested encompasses a clear intent to cause such damage, but also covers a ‘recklessness’ about the environmental consequences of an action – that is, you are aware of a substantial likelihood that such damage will occur but, having understood the risks, you still proceed with that action.”

Q: Do you think that the International Criminal Court could play a major role in addressing this issue?

A: “Yes, I think that the issue can and should be addressed by the International Criminal Court under its Statute, as long as the crime is consistent with the overarching design of that court and its raison d' être. In my book, I propose a mechanism to properly address the intentional destruction of the environment during warfare in terms that are wholly consistent with the role of the International Criminal Court as the appropriate justice mechanism.”

Q: Finally, did you make use of our Peace Palace Library Catalogue and what do you think of the Peace Palace Library?

A: “Of course, I did make use of your catalogue. The Peace Palace Library is a really good library and has everything one needs related to international law. I always tell my students about the Peace Palace and the Peace Palace Library! It is a pleasure to be here and to conduct this interview in the old reading room. The Peace Palace Library has an excellent reputation. And thank you also for showing me the amazing Grotius collection!”

Concluding words of Professor Steven Freeland:

“Today more than ever we need to think about peace and justice, and about the fact that the destruction of the environment can no longer be regarded simply as a by-product of warfare. We need to respect the rights of future generations and realize that common sense must prevail since, when the fighting has stopped, we are all dependent on the environment for our survival, as well as the survival of those who come after us. I hope that my book adds further momentum, in a carefully focused and reasoned way, to the debate about how best to address (and hopefully deter) future crimes against the environment. We need to respect the environment and understand its close links with International Peace and Security.”

Short biography of Professor Steven Freeland:

Professor Steven Freeland is a Professor of International Law at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. He is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Vienna, a Permanent Visiting Professor at the iCourts Centre for Excellence for International Courts, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and a Member of Faculty of the London Institute of Space Policy and Law. He has also been a Visiting Professional within the Appeals Chamber at the International Criminal Court (ICC), and a Special Advisor to the Danish Foreign Ministry in matters related to the ICC.

Prior to his academic life he worked as a commercial lawyer and an investment banker.

Librarian's choice

A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection

  • Freeland, S., Addressing the Intentional Destruction of the Environment during Warfare under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Cambridge, Antwerp, Portland, Intersentia, 2015.

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