Scientists call for fifth Geneva Convention to recognise environmental damage as a war crime

Signal of change / Scientists call for fifth Geneva Convention to recognise environmental damage as a war crime

By Areeba Hasan / 21 Aug 2019

In an open letter addressed to international lawmakers, 24 scientists from across the world have called for a new Geneva Convention that would make governments accountable for the environmental damage inflicted by their militaries in war zones. Published in international science journal Nature, the letter, entitled “Stop Military Conflicts from Trashing the Environment”, urges governments to “incorporate explicit safeguards for biodiversity… to uphold environmental protection during such confrontations” and suggests that “the military industry must be held more accountable for the impact of its activities.”

These suggestions came as the UN’s International Law Commission held a week-long meeting to explore ways to further attempts to keep natural resources safe during war, and amidst the ever-increasing biodiversity crisis we now face. The signatories of the letter call for legal instruments that will ensure safeguards for wildlife and natural resources including: 

  • Site-based protection
  • Protections for nature reserves
  • Controls on the spread of guns used for hunting
  • Measures to hold military forces to account for damage to the environment.

So what?

The effects of war on the environment have been apparent for a long time now. The Vietnam War saw long-term consequences for human health, wildlife and soil quality, and the war on Iraq led to carinogenic pollution of soil and water. In addition to this, several studies and reports have been done in recent years to show that human activities, including wars have had catastrophic impact on extinction of species, loss of habitats, pollution levels and overall environmental health.

Sarah Durant of the Zoological Society of London, one of the signatories to the letter said, "the brutal toll of war on the natural world is well documented, destroying the livelihoods of vulnerable communities and driving many species, already under intense pressure, towards extinction”. Despite these unmistakable outcomes, and after almost two decades of calls for a fifth convention, “military conflict continues to destroy megafauna, push species to extinction, and poison water resources”.

If the suggested measures are adopted in international lawmaking, it would “not only help threatened species, but would also support rural communities, both during and post-conflict, whose livelihoods are long-term casualties of environmental destruction,'' said Durant.

It is now high time that governments be held accountable for damage done by their militaries. Should environmental damage be considered on a par with human right violations in terms of war crimes?



What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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