Research Handbook on International Environmental Law
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Research Handbook on International Environmental Law

Edited by Malgosia Fitzmaurice, David M. Ong and Panos Merkouris

This wide-ranging and comprehensive Handbook examines recent developments in international environmental law (IEL) and the crossover effects of this expansion on other areas of international law, such as trade law and the law of the sea.
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Chapter 27: Environmental Protection in Armed Conflict

Karen Hulme


Karen Hulme Introduction Just as the environment needs to be protected in peacetime, so it also needs safeguarding in situations of armed conflict.1 Without wartime protection, the environment will undoubtedly suffer and the actions of warring States and militia might undo the conservation efforts undertaken in peacetime. Armed conflict inevitably involves environmental impacts, whether due to harmful pollutants released in the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory, the destructive effect of bomb craters or the leakage of chemicals from unexploded ordnance. Indeed, the effect in the environment of most weapons will be similar to the environmental and health issues linked to toxic or hazardous substances and heavy metals (see Sands, 2003: 618–74). Among the most memorable images of war are two which centre upon environmental destruction; notably, the use of napalm on mangrove in Vietnam (Westing, 1976), and Saddam’s oil pollution of the Persian Gulf Conflict 1991 (Elmer-Dewitt, 1992: 23). From early notions of ‘equitable use’ of agricultural ‘fruits’ by occupiers of territory,2 to a prohibition on severe environmental damage (Protocol (I), 1977: Articles 35(3) and 55(1)), the principles and rules of the laws of armed conflict have evolved into a strong body of environmental protection in wartime. Similar to the core principles of environmental protection, the core principles of the laws of armed conflict reflect the values of society, but in a wartime context these humanitarian values are balanced with the needs of the military. And yet there is little room in warfare for eco-centrism. The...

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