Stockholm Conference on Environmental
Law and Justice,  6-9 September 2006

Phoebe Okowa (Queen Mary):
Environmental Justice in Situations of Armed Conflict

To what extent and in what ways if at all, does international law contain a discrete set of principles for the protection of the environment in situations of armed conflict? Do these principles incorporate implementation or redress mechanisms for situations where the core substantive principles have not been complied with?

Although the prohibition on the use of force in the UN Charter has had a discernible impact on inter-state wars, its effect on internal conflicts has unfortunately been marginal. The evolution of humanitarian law as a distinct set of principles governing the conduct of hostilities has now been extended to those conflicts which are purely internal. It is now accepted without qualification that a core element of human rights principles will continue to apply to all armed conflicts and act as a constraint on the means and methods of warfare. The effect of armed conflict on the environment on the hand has received far less explicit attention, although it affected the proceedings leading to the Advisory Opinion on the Legality of Nuclear Weapons and the decisions of the United Nations Compensation Commission set up to provide redress for damages incurred as a consequence of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The environmental effects of warfare have been particularly pertinent in the armed conflict that has been taking place in the territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1994. Yet environmental treaties implicitly limit the sphere of their application to peace time

One of the remarkable developments since 1945 is the proliferation in both the methods and means of warfare, whose effect on the environment is in most cases catastrophic.

This paper assesses the extent to which the substantive law of armed conflict incorporates a distinctly environmental element. It evaluates the extent to which environmental justice broadly construed, could be seen as permeating the customary law and treaty instruments governing the conduct of armed conflict, as well the many environmental treaties ratified in diverse contexts since the Stockholm Conference of 1972. The limitations of existing procedures in ensuring a just outcome where environmental harm is a consequence of armed conflict (whether internal or international) is critically analysed in light of recent state practice. .




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