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9 Protection of the Natural Environment

Cymie R Payne

From: The Oxford Guide to International Humanitarian Law

Edited By: Ben Saul, Dapo Akande

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 16 July 2024

Marine environment, protection — Armed conflict — Ius ad bellum — Ius in bello

This chapter focuses on international humanitarian law’s (IHL) limitations on warfare to protect the natural environment from extremely serious damage and to prevent unnecessary or wanton harm. IHL protection of the environment developed from the principle of protection of civilians, and it has similar motives and goals. The chapter then describes a legal regime that is undergoing development. The International Law Commission (ILC) termed the overall topic ‘Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict’ (PERAC). The central rules of IHL that are well accepted as customary law provide protection to aspects of the environment that can be considered public or private property, or that are essential to human survival. These aspects of PERAC are firmly rooted in the earliest law of war protections for drinking water, crops, and cultural elements, and in modern domestic environmental law and social norms. Yet protection of the environment during armed conflict as a specific legal obligation is a sufficiently recent international norm that its status as binding law has been more contested than early humanitarian commitments like neutrality of medical personnel. This reflects the tension between recognition of the importance of ecological integrity to peace and the interests of states in retaining freedom in their conduct of military operations.

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