Protecting the environment during armed conflict: an inventory and analysis of international law

Despite the protection afforded by several important legal instruments, the environment continues to be the silent victim of armed conflicts worldwide. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has conducted over twenty post-conflict assessments since 1999, using state-of-the-art science to determine the environmental impacts of war. From Kosovo to Afghanistan, Sudan and the Gaza Strip, UNEP has found that armed conflict causes significant harm to the environment and the communities that depend on natural resources. Direct and indirect environmental damage, coupled with the collapse of institutions, lead to environmental risks that can threaten people?s health, livelihoods and security, and ultimately undermine post-conflict peacebuilding. Findings from these assessments also show that the exploitation and illegal trade of natural resources frequently fuel and prolong armed conflict, particularly in countries where laws and institutions have been weakened or have collapsed. As peacebuilding often addresses the allocation, access and ownership of natural resources, there is an urgent need to strengthen their protection during armed conflict. There can be no durable peace if the natural resources that sustain livelihoods are damaged, degraded, and destroyed. The existing international legal framework contains many provisions that either directly or indirectly protect the environment and govern the use of natural resources during armed conflict. In practice, however, these provisions have not always been effectively implemented or enforced. Where the international community has sought to hold States and individuals responsible for environmental harm caused during armed conflict, results have largely been poor, with one notable exception: holding Iraq accountable for damages caused during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, including for billions of dollars worth of compensation for environmental damage. With a view to identifying the current gaps and weaknesses.