The natural environment has often remained a silent victim of war. The consequences of environmental damage for people affected by conflict are severe and complex, affecting their well-being, health and survival. When environmental degradation comes up against climatic risks, it compounds the challenges faced by people trying to survive in contemporary armed conflicts. While a number of environmental damages may be inherent in war, it cannot be unlimited; International humanitarian law (IHL) contains rules that protect the natural environment and aim to limit the damage caused to it by armed conflict.
In 1994, in response to a request from the United Nations General Assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published the first Guidelines for military manuals and instructions on environmental protection in armed conflict assist in the instruction and training of the armed forces on IHL protecting the natural environment. Since then, the international legal framework has continued to develop. At the same time, armed conflicts have continued to cause damage and destruction to the environment, underscoring the continuing need to reaffirm and promote greater respect for IHL.
As part of our efforts in relation to the environmental and climate crisis, and in accordance with the recommendation of a 2009 expert meeting organized by the United Nations Environment Program and the ICRC, the ICRC has updated its 1994 Guidelines to reflect the evolution of international humanitarian law treaties and customs. The updated 2020 Guidelines on the Protection of the Natural Environment in Armed Conflict is a collection of existing IHL rules as well as recommendations that protect the natural environment in armed conflict.
The first part of the 2020 Guidelines covers the rules of IHL which provide specific protection to the natural environment as such. Part II contains general rules of IHL which protect the natural environment. Part III includes the rules relating to specific weapons that ensure the protection of the natural environment. Part IV includes the rules of IHL on the respect, implementation and dissemination of rules protecting the natural environment.
Each rule or recommendation is accompanied by a concise commentary to facilitate understanding and clarify its source and applicability. The updated guidelines have undergone an external peer review process by practitioners and academics, who have provided input in their personal capacity.
The 2020 Guidelines are a reference tool for States, parties to armed conflicts and other actors who may be called upon to interpret and apply IHL. They aim to facilitate the adoption of concrete measures to strengthen respect for the rules of IHL protecting the natural environment, including the promotion of these rules and their incorporation into military manuals, national policies and legal frameworks. To support implementation, the 2020 Guidelines also offer key recommendations that parties to armed conflict can adopt to reduce the environmental impacts of armed conflict, including the identification and designation of areas of environmental significance or importance. fragility as demilitarized zones. Ultimately, greater respect for IHL can limit the impact that armed conflict can have on the natural environment and the deeply related consequences for the conflict-affected populations that depend on it.