This paper presents first results from a three-year inter-disciplinary research project that scrutinizes the mutual constitution between environmental justice and peacebuilding processes after internal armed conflicts. An integral part of our research design is the difference in timing between our two selected case studies – with Colombia being in the midst of the peace process while the peace agreement in Uganda dates back to 2002. We ask to what extent certain lessons for environmental justice, positive and negative, can be learnt from Uganda for the Colombian case.
The linkages of internal armed conflicts to environmental justice are complex. Such conflicts may entail direct environmental destruction and a deterioration of livelihoods, e.g. through population displacement, land grabbing and illegal extraction of natural resources. On the other hand, internal armed conflicts may provide an unintended protection for forests, wetlands and other ecosystems.
Against this backdrop, our starting assumption is that a post-conflict peacebuilding may offer a unique opportunity 1) to ensure environmental justice, e.g. by strengthening or introducing respective legislation and institutions; and 2) to promote stability and justice, e.g. by targeting the sustainability and equitable distribution of resources, and by facilitating environmental cooperation and co-management.
Notwithstanding increasing scholarly acknowledgement of this interlinkage, we lack both comprehensive theoretical frameworks and systematic comparative empirical analyses for the nexus between post-conflict peacebuilding, justice and the natural environment.
Our inter-disciplinary research project provides such an analysis for the Colombian and Ugandan cases, guided by the following research questions:
1. Taking stock: To which extent are concerns of environmental justice integrated or neglected in the post-conflict peacebuilding process, especially in the formation and strengthening of environmental institutions and legislation?
2. Causes: What are the major drivers and conditions underlying this integration or neglect?
3. Environmental Consequences: How does the post-conflict peacebuilding process impact the respective country’s natural environment?
4. Social Consequences: Which consequences do the peacebuilding activities, and their environmental implications and omissions, have for equity concerns of local communities that depend on certain ecosystem services or natural resources? Which actors benefit and which ones are disadvantaged?
5. Political Consequences: How do these various developments feed back into the peacebuilding process and, ultimately, affect its objective of sustainable and equitable peace?
6. Responses: Which lessons can we learn from these causes and consequences to safeguard environmental justice in peacebuilding processes?
In Uganda, the signing of the peace agreement officially ended the conflict in December 2002. However, tensions over resources have persisted, implying mineral exploitation, land grabs and conflicts between returnees and community members. Together with high poverty and low education levels, they bear a high potential of relapse into violent conflict.
Colombia is recognized as a megadiverse country and exhibits a relatively low deforestation rate compared to other countries in South America. With the beginning of the peacebuilding process, areas formerly used by guerrillas as hiding places are now undergoing rapid transformation with land conversion, illegal land grabbing, new forms of natural resources exploitation and the growing of illicit crops.