War often destroys the environment – either when armies poison foliage as a strategy or when toxins leak from undetonated explosives. While the United Nations and International Criminal Court have grown more attentive to the destruction of the environment during a war, courts seldom hold states and individuals accountable for the damage done to human health and ecosystems.
While climate change justice, climate litigation, and environmental human rights are growing fields, we know less of how rights advocates – lawyers, experts, and activists – promote the idea that the environment can be a victim and subject separate from the harm done to people. Without a clear understanding of how these rights advocates work, we risk undervaluing two issues: first, their impact on a new branch of international legal restrictions under “crimes against the earth.” Second, we risk undervaluing how they employ a range of strategies: monitoring polluted areas, representing victims at human rights courts, and making new connections between overlapping fields of international law.
Drawing on interviews and multi-sited fieldwork, the “Toxic Crimes” project (funded by a Kone Foundation Research Group Grant and an Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Fellowship) examines how legal experts and lawyers (a) monitor and limit the spread of pollution in areas of wartime environmental destruction, (b) help victims in polluted conflict zones by aiding them in their claims at regional human rights courts, and (c) seek to expand the rights of the environment by holding individuals accountable.