United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today took aim at two of the pernicious consequences of war, calling for universal adherence to a treaty that seeks to limit the effects of landmines and booby traps, and urging stronger measures to protect the environment during conflict.
“Landmines, booby-traps and other improvised explosive devices aggravate and prolong the horrendous consequences of armed conflict, threatening our societies and future generations,” he said in a message to a meeting in Geneva of the Parties to the Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
“Both during and after hostilities, they kill indiscriminately and maim vulnerable civilians, especially women and children. They cause excessive, yet random, suffering of combatants. They endanger the lives of peacekeepers and humanitarian-aid workers, and hamper the repatriation and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons. And they impede post-conflict reconstruction,” he added.
In the message, delivered by UN Deputy Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament Tim Caughley, Mr. Annan stressed the importance of exchanging information on how to better protect civilians. “I urge you to also consider how to promote universal adherence to the Protocol, and strongly appeal to those countries that have not yet ratified this instrument to do so as soon as possible,” he said.
In another message, marking the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, Mr. Annan cited the oil spill from a Lebanese power station resulting from this summer’s Israeli-Hizbollah war in calling for steps to ensure that international accords on war and armed conflict cover deliberate and unintentional damage to the environment.
“Parties engaged in hostilities have a responsibility to observe international rules and agreements, such as the Geneva Conventions, that govern the conduct of war,” Mr. Annan said. “Some of these rules, such as a prohibition of the deliberate destruction of agricultural land, have an environmental emphasis. But, by and large, the environmental consequences of war are overlooked by contemporary laws,” he added.
“It is high time that we review international agreements related to war and armed conflict to ensure that they also cover deliberate and unintentional damage to the environment.”
The past year has provided “yet another tragic example,” he said, noting that 15,000 tons of fuel oil from the Jiyyeh power station south of Beirut was released during the Israeli-Hizbollah conflict, affecting 150 kilometres of the Lebanese and Syrian coast, polluting beaches and coastal waters and damaging fishing and tourism operations.
In recent years, an increasing number of Governments have asked the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to conduct post-conflict environmental assessments and a team is currently assessing the environmental impact of the conflict in Lebanon, while others are working closely with the Governments of Sudan and Iraq.
“In Sudan, UNEP’s preliminary findings indicate widespread and severe environmental degradation in much of the country, especially related to desertification and deforestation. In Darfur, environmental degradation, resource competition and regional climate change are major underlying causes of food insecurity and conflict,” Mr. Annan said.
“In Iraq, the draining of the marshlands of the Euphrates/Tigris Delta during the 1980s and 1990s provides a classic example of the deliberate targeting of an ecosystem to achieve political and military ends,” he added, noting that UNEP is helping the Iraqi Government to restore the marshlands.
“On this International Day, let us recognize the threat that war poses to the foundation of all our sustainable development objectives – and let us pledge to do more about it,” he concluded.