Environmental Damage is a War Crime: Analyzing the Legal Implications of the Russian Armed Invasion’s Environmental Impact on Ukraine

Rekrut, Iryna | May 20, 2024

As a result of the armed invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military, Ukraine has suffered extreme environmental damage that affects both its land and its people. This article explores the intersection of international law and environmental protection in the context of armed conflicts, with a specific focus on the Russian armed invasion of Ukraine. After describing the devastation faced by Ukraine, this article examines existing frameworks in international law such as the Rome Statute, the Geneva Conventions, customary international humanitarian law, and domestic law. This overview highlights guidelines in these frameworks that render environmental damage during war impermissible. Despite the potential for accountability under the Rome Statute, the relevant provision Article 8(2)(b)(iv) has never been utilized for an environmental claim. With this in mind, this article next delineates the scope of the environmental impact of armed conflict, both generally around the world and more specifically in the Russian armed invasion of Ukraine. Of particular note is the catastrophic impact on Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka Dam, which serves as just one example of how to analyze Ukraine’s environmental destruction through application of international guidelines. This article concludes by advocating for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate environmental destruction as a war crime, both as a matter of general practice and specifically against Russia as a reaction to its armed invasion of Ukraine. In addition to being legally sound, such an investigation would respond to global demands for accountability and would enable the ICC to demonstrate its relevance in addressing environmental offenses.