Laws Protecting the Environment during Wars Need Enforcing and Strengthening to Deal with New Challenges
UN Environment Programme Report Launched on International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict
Nairobi, 6 November 2009 - Strengthening, enforcing and clarifying existing laws protecting environment in times of conflict could go a long way towards protecting a country's natural assets during wars, says a new report by legal experts released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
While laws such as Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions do address environmental protection, their wording remains too "stringent and imprecise" it says.
The report's experts recommend that greater precision could be adopted, so that the threshold for environmental damage would be defined as severe environmental impacts over several hundred square kilometers and damage that persists for a period of several months or over a season.
Other recommendations include a new legal instrument that will 'demilitarize' and protect important locations and economically central ecosystems such as groundwater aquifers, agricultural and grazing lands, parks, national forests and habitats of endangered species.
"At the outset of any conflict, critical natural resources and areas of ecological importance would be delineated and designated as 'demilitarized zones" says the report, Protecting the Environment during Armed Conflict: An Inventory and Analysis of International Law.
The report, based on the expertise of 20 leading legal specialists, also underlines pressing new legal challenges.
International law regulating warfare was developed in an era of state-to-state conflicts.
Today the overwhelming majority of conflicts are internal, meaning that many environmental provisions - weak or otherwise - are not applicable.
In a message released today, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says: "I call on Member States to clarify and expand law on environmental protection in times of war. Existing legal instruments should be adapted to reflect the predominantly internal nature of today's armed conflicts".