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The effect of war has far gone beyond
human suffering. Armed conflict has devastating effect on the
environment. It is on record that some battlefields of the World War I
and II are still unfit for human habitation and cultivation.
Consequently, environmental law of war exists to provide protection to
the environment during armed conflicts. This thesis examines the
adequacy or otherwise of the legal framework for the protection of the
environment during war time. It equally investigates the mechanisms for
the enforcement of the legal regime on the protection of the
The main objectives of this thesis are to identify the legal framework on environmental protection during armed conflict; to examine problems if any in the enforcement of environmental law of war and to enhance access to information on the consequences of armed conflict on the environment.
The thesis observes that some treaty provisions that afford protection to the environment during armed conflict are vague and imprecise. It also found that majority of the international legal framework protecting the environment during
armed conflict were basically designed for international armed conflict and do not apply to non international armed conflict. Consequently, the thesis recommends, amongst other things, the establishment of new legal regime specifically for the protection of the environment during armed conflict. Similarly, countries must develop the necessary political commitment and popular support to implement fully laws and policies that enhance environment protection during wartime.
1.1 Historical Background
In modern times, the legal framework for environmental protection during armed conflict i.e. environmental law of warfare, is broadly divided into Principles of Customary International Humanitarian Law of warfare and the treaty provisions of international humanitarian law. The evolution of environmental law of war dates back to period when some basic principles of international humanitarian law were developed. Some of these international humanitarian law principles are that the right of states to use method and means of warfare is not unlimited, the principle of humanity and public conscience popularly known as the Martens Clause, principle of distinction, military necessity and proportionality. The relevance of the principles customary international humanitarian law (IHL) lies in the fact that it binds all states as a general principle accepted as binding, by all nations. Thus, customary IHL is very
effective as it does not depend on the consent of state before it become operative. Despite this advantage, it could not prevent the horror and massive destruction of lives and property experienced during armed World War II. The experiences acquired from successive armed conflicts brought to light the inadequacy of the principles of International Humanitarian Law and the need for a more comprehensive legal regime to protect the environment during armed conflict. This brought out the establishment of various Conventions such as the 1899 Hague and 1907 Hague Conventions, the Four Geneva Conventions of 1945 and the Two Additional Protocols to the Geneva Convention of 1977, just to mention but a few.
However, it must be pointed out at this junction that it was not until 1977 through the Additional Protocol I and II that the environment was specifically made an object of protection during armed conflict. In fact, all provisions effort at regulating means and methods of warfare are targeted at protecting the civilian and to reduce human suffering. Thus, effort at protecting the environment during armed conflict through the instrumentality of the international humanitarian law was rather indirect or collateral.
Yet the existence of environmental law of war could not prevent massive destruction of vegetation by the U.S. army during the Vietnam War, could not prevent the attempt by the U.S. to modify the environment to gain military advantage.
The consequences of armed conflict today have gone far beyond human suffering, displacement and damage to infrastructure and homes. Armed conflicts also cause environmental destruction and degradation.
Environmental destruction or degradation or both during wartime whether deliberately or inadvertently done, have been part of war since ancient times. As early as 146 BC, Roman troops razed the city of Coutlage and salted the surrounding earth to sterilize soil.1 Thus environmental damage in wartime has for decades been recognized as one of the most immediate threats to human existence. This is because the destruction associated with armed conflict spills over to the natural resources such as water, agricultural land, trees and wildlife. The destruction during armed conflict can undermine human survival, act as a driver of poverty and forced migration.
Due to technological advancement, nations have the capability and potential to destroy large areas in a matter of seconds, and such destruction to the environment could be irreversible and for others, it could take many decades to recover. Few examples will suffice. Today, some battlefields of the World War I and World War II remain unfit for cultivation or dangerous to the population because of the unexploded mines and projectile still embedded in the soil.2 During the Vietnam War, the United States instituted operation Ranch Hand for the purpose of destroying vegetation used by the enemy as cover and as a source of sustenance. It has been estimated that the chemical based incendiary weapons, such as Agent Orange, have caused destruction of eight percent of the regions crop lands, fourteen percent of its forests, and half of its swamp areas.
During the Persian Gulf War, it was reported that the Iraq Forces set
fire in more than 160 oil installations. One report suggested that the
fires released numerous toxins, including the emission of sulphur
dioxide and hydrogen sulphide from the burning oil field. The ensuing
oil slick devastated the coral reef communities disrupting the sensitive
More recently, in 1999 dozens of industrial sites were bombed during the Kosovo conflict, leading to toxic chemical contamination at several hotspots. In another example, an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 tons of fuel oil were released into the Mediterranean Sea following the bombing of the Jiyeh power station during the conflict between Israel and Lebanon in 2006.
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