The Debate in the Sixth Committee on the Protection of the Environment during Armed Conflicts


On 4 November 2013, during the debate in the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly on the Report of the International Law, the Italian delegate, Mr. Mauro Politi, submitted the comments of his delegation on the topic of “Protection of the Environment in relation to Armed Conflicts”. Mr. Politi noted that the Report of the ILC indicated that “an informal dialogue” had taken place between the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Marie Jacobsson, and the members of the Commission on elements such as scope and methodology, the general direction and the timetable for future work. In this respect, he observed what follows:

Rules pertaining to different areas of international law, including international environmental law, the law of armed conflicts, and the norms on the protection of cultural property, are by their very nature complex and interdependent. As a result, dealing with the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts requires a thorough and comprehensive examination of these bodies of law. In this regard, we note that the suggestion was made on the part of the Special Rapporteur to deal with the topic through a temporal perspective. In substance, the Commission would be called to address “legal measures taken to protect the environment before, during and after an armed conflict”; to identify legal issues relating to each stage; and develop concrete conclusions or guidelines. This could be one way of addressing the subject. At the same time, we are not fully convinced that a strict dividing line between temporal phases of the conflict is required for the consideration of the topic. In our view, it might be preferable to examine the interrelations between the different bodies of law involved having in mind, on the one side, the existing legislation and, on the other, the trends towards its further development. For example, it has already been noted that the law of armed conflict, including international humanitarian law, consists of rules which are applicable before, during and after an armed conflict; with some principles (in particular, the protection of civilian population) representing a common element in all these different phases. The same applies to international environmental law, where leading features such as the precautionary principle, the principle of mutual assistance in case of massive environmental damage and the polluter pays principle often need to be considered together in order to assess their effectiveness for the purposes of the topic before the Commission.

In addition, he stressed that:

(…) for our purposes, the concept of protection of the environment should be intended in a rather broad sense that would include, as we have incidentally noted, areas such as the protection of cultural property, which is gravely put at risk in situations of international or internal conflicts. Recent examples of destructions, looting and illegal traffic of cultural goods during or after conflicts have shown how important is to focus the attention of the international community on this phenomenon and its lasting negative effects, both economic and spiritual, for the communities concerned. This is even more true, if we keep in mind that next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

He then concluded his remarks affirming that his delegation agreed

with the suggestion by the Special Rapporteur that the topic is more suited to the development of draft non-binding guidelines.

And he added:

The Commission should not aim at preparing a draft convention. Rather, what would be in our view important and useful is to provide a sort of handbook that would reflect, on the one side, existing basic norms in the various fields of the law involved; and, on the other side, the elements that signify a possible evolution of relevant State practice.

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