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CREECA LECTURE: Toxic Crimes Project: Legal Activism Against Environmental Destruction in the Conflict in Eastern Ukraine

November 12, 2020 @ 4:00 pm - 5:15 pm

Dr. Freek van der Vet, University Researcher, Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, University of Helsinki

This lecture will be given over Zoom: REGISTER HERE. 


Shell in Debaltseve, Eastern Ukraine. Credit: UNICEF Ukraine,

War often destroys the environment – either directly when armies poison foliage as a military strategy or indirectly, when toxins leak from bombed industrial sites. In the “Toxic Crimes Project,” we examine how rights advocates—lawyers, experts, and activists—protect the environment from wartime environmental destruction, how they promote the idea that the environment has legally enforceable rights, and how they expand international legal mechanisms (at the ICC and ILC) to protect the environment during war. In this lecture, Van der Vet presents case studies from the project. Based on several pilot-interviews with lawyers and NGO activists, the lecture examines legal activism against environmental destruction during the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine is one of Europe’s most heavily industrialized areas. Before the conflict broke out, the region already coped with heavy pollution from its industry and coal sector. Some of these heavy industry sites have been unstable or fraught with safety issues. Many of these industrial sites in the Donbas region are located in the immediate vicinity of the front line of the conflict. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has damaged many of these sites, for instance the Zasyadko coal mine and the Lysychyansk oil refinery, polluting the air and contaminating water supplies, and, as a result, damaging human health and ecosystems for years to come.

Dr. Freek van der Vet is a University Researcher at the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, University of Helsinki Finland. Van der Vet’s research interests include international litigation at human rights courts, legal mobilization under authoritarianism, and environmental destruction during war. He is the Principal Investigator (PI) of “Toxic Crimes Project: Legal Activism against Wartime Environmental Destruction” (funded by Kone Foundation and Academy of Finland); a research group investigating how lawyers and experts seek accountability for wartime environmental destruction. In his previous projects, he worked on legal mobilization against disinformation and trolling in Russia, the legal defense of treason suspects and NGOs in Russia, and litigation at the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of victims from the Chechen conflicts. He is a member and co-founder of ActInCourts (Activists in International Courts; funded by SSHRC, Canada), a network of scholars and human rights practitioners working on regional human rights courts. His academic work has appeared in Law & Society Review, Law & Social Inquiry, Europe-Asia Studies, The International Journal of Human Rights, Social & Legal Studies, Human Rights Review, Review of Central and East European Law, among others. He completed visiting fellowships at the University of British Columbia (Canada) and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark).


November 12, 2020
4:00 pm - 5:15 pm


Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA)
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