Published: April, 2022 · Categories: Publications,
Delivered during negotiations on a Draft Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences from the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.
Thank you Chair, and our thanks to the government of Ireland for its work in developing and promoting this political declaration.
I am delivering this statement on behalf of the Conflict and Environment Observatory, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, Norwegian People’s Aid, PAX, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Zoï Environment Network.
Our organisations all work in the field of environmental risks resulting from conflicts, either in research, advocacy or explosive ordnance clearance operations. We urge States to ensure that the declaration properly addresses the environmental risks created by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and we wish to explain the need to properly integrate measures to protect the environment when dealing with their legacy.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has underscored the horrendous impact on civilians from the use of explosive weapons in towns and cities. Research by non-governmental organisations has highlighted the serious environmental risks associated with the use of explosive weapons, particularly where residential areas are co-mingled with industrial, commercial, and energy infrastructure. Independent monitoring of the conflict has already identified dozens of locations where damage from explosive weapons may have caused serious pollution incidents that may affect communities for long after the conflict. Unfortunately, these risks are not unique to Ukraine.
These risks are an inevitable outcome of the decision to deploy explosive weapons in populated areas, as we have seen from conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. We stress the importance of strengthening the declaration text to better protect civilians against the grave direct, indirect and reverberating effects from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We therefore align ourselves with the comments made by INEW, to strengthen the political declaration as to better protect civilians against the impact of this practice.
In this joint statement, we offer further detail on the link between the use of explosive weapons and environmental damage. Our goal is to ensure that the environmental consequences of the use of explosive weapons are well understood and reflected in the political declaration. These consequences include acute and chronic health risks to the civilian population, and the long-term degradation of the environment.
We would like to clarify the following:
- The environment is a civilian object1
- Protecting the environment, and the services it provides, is a vital component of the protection of civilians.2
- The environmental contamination linked to the use of explosive weapons poses acute and chronic health risks to civilians.
- The use of explosive weapons is of particular environmental concern due to the destruction or damage it causes to infrastructure and objects found in populated areas. This destruction or damage can lead to pollution of environmental media and create immediate and long-term exposure risks for civilians.3
- The debris generated by the intensive use of explosive weapons in populated areas can create environmental health risks and, if improperly managed, lingering damage to the environment.4
We therefore ask States to consider the following:
We encourage States to replace the term “natural environment” with the term “environment”. Although the term natural environment is used in Additional Protocol I, it is an artefact of the period of its development and does not reflect contemporary understanding of the relationship between people and the environment, nor of the value of the environment per se.
Furthermore, we encourage States to facilitate the work of the United Nations, the ICRC, other relevant international organisations and civil society organisations aimed at protecting and assisting civilian populations and addressing the direct and indirect humanitarian, and environmental impact arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
The political declaration should therefore also include a recommendation to collect data on the environmental effects from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We encourage States to include the environment in article 4.2 of the draft political declaration, namely to:
Collect and, where feasible and appropriate, share and make publicly available disaggregated data, on the direct and reverberating effects on civilians, and on the environment, of military operations involving the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
CEOBS also submitted written comments on the text of the draft declaration.
- For discussion on the accepted civilian character of the environment see the ICRC’s 2020 Guidelines on the Protection of the Natural Environment in Armed Conflict https://shop.icrc.org/guidelines-on-the-protection-of-the-natural-environment-in-armed-conflict-pdf-en
- Increasing attention is being paid to the relationship between the protection of the environment and the protections of civilians, see for example the UN Secretary General’s reports on the protection of civilians in armed conflict S/2019/373 and S/2020/366.
- The adverse impacts caused by the use of EWIPA include the risks and harmful effects to people and the environment from debris, hazardous materials, contaminated ground, poor air quality, contaminated water resources, wastewater and contaminated water supplies. Environmental threats from infrastructure objects in urban settings include industrial and commercial units, fuel stations, workshops, water and wastewater treatment facilities, and energy generating and transmission sites.
- The collapse of waste management infrastructure and eventual clearance and removal of debris and demolition waste also has significant environmental impacts, such as from the moving lorry loads of debris and the adverse impact on any disposal areas. There is also the impact associated with any post-conflict reconstruction, with contaminated ground potentially affecting the suitability for re-use, re-construction and safe re-occupation of land.