WARNING: The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court v. Mr. X for Opening Oil Exploration in the Greater Virunga Landscape

Be warned.

Since the 15th of September of 2016 the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague will start prosecuting people, such as company executives and politicians that commit crimes against the environment. Environmental crimes such as environmental destruction, pollution of water sources, illegal exploitation of natural resources and land grabbing will now be considered in investigations of cases that fall within the ICC’s existing remit. The ICC is known for trying individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The ICC has also shown a special commitment in prosecuting the destruction of Cultural Heritage during an armed conflict as a war crime; on the 27th of September the ICC declared Mr Al Mahdi guilty of the war crime of attacking historic and religious buildings in Timbuktu (Mali) and sentenced him to nine years’ imprisonment. This verdict and sentence for the destruction of a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage site highlights the gravity of the destruction as it does not only affect the direct victims of the crimes but the whole humanity. It also recognizes the need for decisive actions when protecting UNESCO Cultural and Natural World Heritage sites against increasing threats and destruction such as war or environmental destruction.

This week Ugandan Newspaper The Monitor reported that Uganda Government “is considering a fresh new licensing round for three oil blocks in the Albertine Graben that were not taken up during the first licencing round. One of this block is the Ngaji block, which covers half of Lake Edward and a part of Queen Elizabeth National Park, and also forms part of the same ecosystem as Virunga – Africa’s oldest national park and a Unesco World Heritage site”.

Possible oil exploration in Lake Edward, will increase the threats to this highly eco-sensitive area and endanger the livelihoods of thousands of people in Uganda and DRC, as well as have a negative impact on the Universal Outstanding Values of this unique World Heritage site.

Investors might have to think twice before submitting a bid for this controversial oil block and should be well aware of the possible legal risk of such an enterprise.