Damage to the natural environment has long been a hallmark of conflict. But technological developments, both in terms of how hostilities are conducted, and the locations in which wars are fought, are increasing the risk of serious long-term environmental damage, and with it, threats to the civilian population. The Toxic Remnants of War Network, of which PAX is a member, believes that in the absence of a common international standard for minimising harm and dealing with the environmental legacy of armed conflict, persistent environmental problems will continue to be created, and with them, long-term threats to the health and livelihoods of civilians.
From Ukraine, to Libya, Iraq, Syria and Gaza, environmental damage is threatening lives and livelihoods and increasing the vulnerability of communities. There is a consensus view among legal scholars and, increasingly, international organisations and some states, that International Humanitarian Law’s current provisions for the protection of the environment during conflict are unfit for purpose.
The acceptance that legal protection is too weak has set a number of processes in motion. It is also reinvigorating an international debate that first emerged in the 1960s. Yet in spite of the crucial role that civil society has played in recent initiatives on indiscriminate or inhumane weapons, the arms trade and on regulating toxic substances like mercury, to date the collective voice of civil society has been largely absent from this debate.
The Toxic Remnants of War Network seeks to remedy this. In doing so, we recognise the important role that civil society can play in working with those states and international organisations that support efforts to increase the protection of the environment and its inhabitants before, during and after armed conflicts.
Humanitarian and environmental consequences
As a topic, conflict and the environment is broad, encompassing many, often interrelated, thematic areas. History suggests that progress will only be possible if these different thematic areas are approached individually, instead of tackling the topic as a whole. For that reason, our Network will focus on the humanitarian and environmental consequences of pollution generated, or exacerbated, by conflict and military activities – the toxic remnants of war.
This means minimising those practices that generate toxic remnants of war, it means ensuring that their environmental and humanitarian impacts are quickly assessed and addressed, and it means identifying and assisting those affected.
Learn more about the Toxic Remnants of War Network at www.trwn.org