Although the work performed by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) for damages arising from the 1991 Gulf War is little known, the scope of those efforts is enormous. Almost 2.7 million claims from 80-plus countries were submitted to the UNCC, which awarded in excess of $55 billion and has paid out more than half of that total.
Boalt Hall professors David D. Caron ’83 and Cymie Payne ’97—who played pivotal roles in the UNCC review along with several other Boalt alumni—recently launched a three-volume work addressing the myriad issues involved. They have also decided to call together core investigators to assess their work in an ongoing project that will culminate in a conference at Boalt in the spring of 2009. “The situation of the UNCC is obscure and underappreciated even though its mandate dwarfs all similar efforts, including Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 Commission combined,” says Caron, C. William Maxeiner Distinguished Professor of Law. “Cymie and I were both there and have talked about this for years.”
Even though the Gulf War lasted less than one year, from August 1990 to March 1991, approximately 2.6 million claims came from individuals—all of which have been paid. The UNCC’s unique task included handling environmental claims caused by various sources, including the Kuwaiti oil fires, and overseeing jurisprudence of a highly complex claims process. Payne, a senior attorney for the UNCC from 1999 to 2005, was responsible for an international team of lawyers and technical experts assessing claims of damage to the environment and public health arising from the conflict. In that role, she supported a panel of commissioners involved in landmark decisions that granted war reparations for environmental damage.
“The UNCC has a wealth of lessons to share,” says Payne, “including the institutional and managerial aspects of designing a claims program that disburses such large amounts of money. The restoration of an environment badly damaged by war through a legal process is a piece of history that can be applied to many diverse environmental catastrophes. I felt strongly that this was an account that needed to be set down and communicated to a wider audience, a view that David shared. We realized that this was an opportunity to collaborate on something that we both had been deeply involved in. The remarkable thing was the number of Boalt lawyers who have played a significant role in the [UNCC].”
In addition to more than 80 countries that had nationals in the Gulf War region, close to 30 countries also had civilians conducting business there. Although environmental losses were mostly sustained by countries located in the immediate region, many others provided emergency assistance and several claimed compensation for costs they incurred. The number of governments that submitted claims reflects the scope of business in the Middle East, diplomatic representation, and the large number of foreign workers in both Iraq and Kuwait during the war.