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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Environmental damage during armed conflicts

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The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe finalized a review and discussion on the environmental damage during armed conflicts. It decided that the Council of Europe should take the lead in creating a new legal instruments to prevent environmental damage during armed conflicts and reduce its scale as much as possible.

The Parliamentarians of the 46 counties of the Council of Europe this week have been meeting in Strasbourg for the winter plenary session. The Assembly discussed and then unanimously approved a resolution and recommendation based on a report by John Howell (United Kingdom, EC/DA).

The Assembly said armed conflict left “deep scars on human living space”, undermining the right to a healthy environment. Such damage could be “multifaceted, severe, long-lasting and mostly irreversible”.

International human rights and humanitarian law already imposed substantive obligations on states involved in conflict to protect the environment, but there were “important gaps”, the parliamentarians pointed out.

The deliberate severe destruction or deterioration of nature, which could be qualified as “ecocide”, should therefore be codified in both national and international law. The Assembly strongly supported efforts to amend the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Statute in order to add ecocide as a new crime.

There should be a prohibition on weapons which have a disproportionate impact on the environment and “render human life in the affected area impossible”, the parliamentarians added.

The report on which the discussion was based pointed out that armed conflicts, wars and military aggression destroy human lives and damage human living space. Environmental damages can be multifaceted, severe, long-lasting and mostly irreversible. They affect not only ecosystems but also human health beyond the conflict area and long after the conflict is over. The human rights to life and to a healthy environment are thus undermined.

The report notes that the existing international legal framework provides for a limited protection of the environment in times of armed conflict based on international humanitarian law instruments. It highlights the need to ensure co-application of human rights and humanitarian law during armed conflicts. It also advocates for the international recognition of the crime of ecocide and measures to outlaw the use of prohibited weapons which have disastrous impact on both the environment and humans.

The report recommends steps to consolidate a legal framework for the enhanced protection of the environment in armed conflicts at national, European and international levels, notably for monitoring infringements and addressing compensation claims. Moreover, State responsibility for extraterritorial environmental damage should be strengthened, and a new regional legal instrument or treaty under the Council of Europe’s auspices should be drafted.

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