The ‘Gänseliesel’ (Goose Girlis), a historical fountain erected in 1901, represents the most well-known landmark of the city of Goettingen.


Protecting Protected Areas in Bello: Learning From Institutional Design and Conflict Resilience in the Greater Virunga and Kidepo Landscapes

Elaine (Lan Yin) Hsiao



It has often been cited that major armed conflicts (>1,000 casualties) afflicted two-thirds (23) of the world’s recognized biodiversity hotspots between 1950 and 2000.1 In 2011, the International Law Commission (ILC) included in its long-term work program Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict.2 This led to the adoption of twenty-eight Draft Principles, including designation of protected zones where attacks against the environment are prohibited during armed conflict.3 Protected zone designations apply to places of major environmental and cultural importance, requiring that they “[...] shall be protected against any attack, as long as it does not contain a military objective.”4 Most research on armed conflict and protected areas has focused on impacts to wildlife and less on how to protect these natural habitats from the ravages of armed conflict.5

This article highlights some of the gaps in the ILC Draft Principles towards protecting protected zones in bello. It uses transboundary protected areas (TBPAs) formalized through multilateral agreements to illustrate challenges on the ground. TBPAs are internationally designated “[...] protected areas that are ecologically connected across one or more international boundaries [...]” and sometimes even established for their promotion of peace (i.e., Parks for Peace).6 There is little legal research on how to design TBPA agreements for conflict resilience, conflict sensitivity, and ultimately positive peace.7 The research draws from two case studies in Africa’s Great Rift Valley: the Greater Virunga Landscape (GVL) between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda, and the Kidepo Landscape, which forms part of the broader Landscapes for Peace initiative between South Sudan and Uganda. Both suffer from armed conflicts of various types and present two of the only TBPAs in the world that have incorporated environmental peacebuilding into their transboundary agreements.8 The case studies illustrate different approaches to TBPA design and the pros and cons of each modality in the context of conflict resilience and conflict sensitivity. This guides us on how to better protect protected areas in bello, ensuring that protected zones endure on the ground and not just in principle.



1    T. Hanson et al., ‘Warfare in Biodiversity Hotspots’, 23 Conservation Biology (2009) 3, 578, 578.
2    Report of the International Law Commission to the Sixty-Third Session, UN Doc A/66/10, 2011, 289.
3    ILC, Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflicts, Text and Titles of the Draft Principles Provisionally Adopted by the Drafting Committee on First Reading, UN Doc A/CN.4/L.937, 6 June 2019, Draft Principle 4.
4    Report of the International Law Commission to the Seventy-First Session, UN Doc A/74/10, 2019, 213.
5    A. J. Plumptre, ‘Lessons Learned from On-the-Ground Conservation in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’, 16 Journal of Sustainable Forestry (2003) 3-4, 69-88; J. H. Daskin & R. M. Pringle, ‘Warfare and Wildlife Declines in Africa’s Protected Areas’, 553 Nature (2018) 7688, 328-336; J. P. Dudley et al., ‘Effects of War and Civil Strife on Wildlife and Wildlife Habitats’, 16 Conservation Biology (2002) 2, 319-329.
6    M. Vasilijević et al., Transboundary Conservation: A Systematic and Integrated Approach (2015), available at ­ (last visited 17 March 2020).
7    E. C. Hsiao, ‘Missing Peace: Why Transboundary Conservation Areas Are Not Resolving Conflicts’, News Security Beat (19 February 2019), available at ­https://www.newsecuritybeat­.org/2019/02­/missing-peace-transboundary-conservation-areas-resolving-conflicts/ (last visited 17 March 2020).
8    E. C. Hsiao, Protecting Places for Nature, People, and Peace: A Critical Socio-Legal Review of Transboundary Conservation Areas (2018), available at (last visited 17 March 2020).



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