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United Nations: Report on Environment in Times of Conflict Released

(Nov. 10, 2009) On November 6, 2009, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released a report calling for better environmental protection in wartime. Natural assets need to be better protected by clarification of relevant laws, the report concluded. The document was based on the work of 20 legal specialists from around the world. In addition, the UNEP report stressed the need to improve international law on conflict in order to “'demilitarize' and protect ecosystems such as groundwater aquifers, agricultural and grazing lands, parks, national forests, and habitats of endangered species.” (UN Calls for Strengthening of Environmental Laws in Armed Conflict, UN NEWS CENTRE, Nov. 6, 2009, available at
; Protecting the Environment During Armed Conflict: An Inventory and Analysis of International Law, UNEP website, (last visited Nov. 10, 2009).)

As many contemporary conflicts are within national borders, international law on warfare, including the Geneva Convention, often will not apply. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.) U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Member States to revise domestic law, in order to clarify environmental protection in times of war. “Existing legal instruments should be adapted to reflect the predominantly internal nature of today's armed conflicts,” Ban said. (Id.)

The UNEP report advocates having the International Law Commission (ILC) review existing laws on the environment and conflict. The ILC is a U.N. body established in 1948 to work on the development and codification of international law. (ILC website, (last visited Nov. 10, 2009).) The report also proposes the creation of a U.N. organ to monitor violations that harm the environment and oversee a program of compensation for resulting damage. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

The U.N. Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, has argued that “[d]estroying and damaging the natural assets and ecological infrastructure of a country or community should be an issue of highest humanitarian concern.” He went on to point out that the loss of freshwaters and crucial ecosystems “not only leads to direct suffering but also undermines the survival, the livelihoods and the opportunities for people to recover during and after a conflict.” (Id.)