Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Omar Dahbour

Committee Members

Charles Mill

Michael Mesner

Jeffrey Blustein

Subject Categories



Environmentalism, Transitional Justice, Liberalism, Indigenous Rights, Sustainability, Responsibility


My dissertation’s central objective is to normatively devise ethically appropriate sociopolitical and juridical responses to ecocide (i.e., grave environmental harm). More specifically, the work seeks to philosophically engage the ethical question of what is owed to human societies that are displaced due to intentional environmental destruction.

The motivation behind the project stems from the lack of academic research (excluding a pocket of recent analysis of the international community’s obligation to assist ‘climate refugees’) involving the question: “What ought to be afforded victims of environmental harm?” The dearth of scholarship is surprising, considering growing global concerns, vis-à-vis accelerating rates of environmental degradation, which if allowed to continue, will generate wide-ranging national and international environmental crises and disasters in the twenty-first century and beyond.

The dissertation attempts to remedy this situation by bringing environmental issues under the purview of the philosophical species of justice known as Transitional Justice. The novelty of such an approach is its assertion that ‘social transformation’ rather than merely ‘correcting the harm done’ or ‘restoring the status quo’ is necessary for overcoming these kinds of wrongs because absent social change, the conditions that reinforce, entrench, and reproduce these sorts of injustices remain in place.

Since the focus is on transforming communities’ relationships and interactions with their environment, instead of simply repairing the damage from past injuries, the dissertation offers a full account of what I call environmental transformative justice. To achieve this the dissertation establishes the context in which environmental transformative justice is operative because of harm suffered (i.e., social death and loss of vital interests stemming from intentional environmental destruction) and the manner in which the harm occurred (i.e., direct, indirect, or negligent state action); employs a Rawlsian constructivist theory of justice to determine its ideal aims; offers guidance on how to pursue these aims by exploring the relationship between constructivist and comparative approaches to justice (e.g., Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum); identifies actors’ responsibilities for pursuing these aims by developing a notion of common but differentiated responsibility based on Iris Young’s two-tiered model of responsibility, and supports the assertion that environmental transformative justice ought to be pursued from within a Transitional Justice framework, by demonstrating ways in which Transitional Justice mechanisms (e.g., criminal tribunals, truth commissions, public apologies, pardons, lustration, memorialization, reparations, and constitutional conventions) can assist in furthering environmental aims (i.e., promoting ecological sustainability, preservation, and restoration).

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