Thoughts from the IUCN WCEL Environmental Security and Conflict Law Specialist Group Chair, Professor Karen Hulme:
At the recent Third WCEL International Environmental Law Conference in Oslo, on ‘The Transformative Power of Law: Addressing Global Environmental Challenges’, we heard a number of excellent papers on the topic of armed conflict and environmental damage. Of course, armed conflict is inherently destructive of nature, from the damage caused by bombs and the targeting of industrial facilities that leach toxic chemicals into rivers and soils, to the destruction caused by heavy military vehicles as they tear across the landscape. Yet, during such times, the law is not silent. Indeed, the law protecting the environment in relation to armed conflict has recently been the subject of an comprehensive review by the UN’s International Law Commission (ILC) – the resulting legal tools have become known as the PERAC Draft Principles. As Ambassador Fife of Norway explained in his plenary, the ILC’s work has transformed the legal landscape in this area, creating a set of principles that have a truly transformative, temporal approach – notably, analyzing the law applicable before the outbreak of conflict (i.e. peacetime), during conflict and post conflict.
Through this temporal approach the value of other areas of law, such as environmental law and human rights law, are being explored for their value in protecting the wartime environment. The Draft Principles also advance key issues that have often been missing from the debates or laws – such as the impact of armed conflict on indigenous peoples and their resource access rights, and the long-lasting environmental legacy of toxic or hazardous remnants of war. And they recognize gaps in the law too, including the need to further refine issues of liability for environmental harm in warfare, including by corporate actors and armed groups. These topics were among those discussed in a parallel session organised by the Specialist Group on Environmental Security and Conflict Law. Thus, we urge the General Assembly to seize the momentum gained in the ILC’s work to date and adopt the Draft Principles later this month. And we urge others to use the Draft Principles in their work, disseminate them and develop them further to ensure that they become – as Ambassador Fife suggested, the ‘building material’ for future legal interpretations in this area.