The Role of Multilateral Environmental Agreements in Armed Conflict: ‘Green-keeping’ in Virunga Park. Applying the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in the Armed Conflict of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

In: Nordic Journal of International Law
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  • 1 PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, Lund University, Sweden
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This article analyses the application of the 1972 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention (the WHC) in the context of the armed conflicts that have taken place in the Virunga National Park (the Park), a natural world heritage site in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC). Instead of addressing wartime environmental damage under the law of armed conflict, this article seeks to establish how such damage can be addressed using multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). MEAs often consist of general principles and vague obligations and their relevance or applicability during situations of armed conflict may be questioned. However, a number of MEAs, including the WHC, authorise their convention bodies to develop detailed and substantive obligations applicable to their parties. Thus, the decisions and recommendations adopted by the World Heritage Committee, a body established under the WHC, provide substantive content to the provisions of the WHC. These decisions and recommendations may, however, run counter to the requirements of military necessity thereby affecting the application of the law of armed conflict. While the position adopted by the World Heritage Committee does not inevitably imply a clash between the obligations in the WHC and the law of armed conflict, it does raise the question of whether the outstanding values of world heritage should trump the rules of military necessity and other pressing concerns during armed conflict. On an informal basis, the World Heritage Committee and the UN peacekeeping forces deployed in the DRC have agreed to perform operations that jointly address the interconnected concerns of security and conservation of natural resources in the region of the Park. This cooperative ‘green-keeping’ operation represents a useful approach to regime interaction and the harmonisation of obligations set out in different legal regimes that are applicable to the same subject matter.

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