Security Council Arria Formula Meeting: Protection of the Environment during Armed Conflict

Statement by H.E. Lise Gregoire-van Haaren,
Deputy Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations

New York, 7 November 2018

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands would like to thank Kuwait and Germany for taking this initiative. And we would also like to express our sincere thanks to the briefers for their insightful views on this important issue.

Under the Kuwaiti Presidency of the Security Council in February, we held a meeting on ‘The Purposes and Principles of the Charter of the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace and security’. We commemorated the 27nd anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait and the important role the Security Council played in that regard.

A forgotten achievement of the Security Council is the unique framework the Council established for liability and compensation of environmental damage in an international context, influencing both jus in bello and jus post bellu.

We therefore thank Kuwait for convening this Arria formula meeting in honor of the ‘International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict’, and for recalling the important framework that this Council has established.

Mr. President, while acknowledging that there are many relevant actors and angles in this issue, I will limit myself to three specific elements that remain imperative when considering the protection of the environment in armed conflict:

  • Role of the Security Council to ensure compliance of international norms to protect the environment;
  • The role that peacekeeping missions can play in reducing the environmental footprint; and
  • Better prevention through joint risk assessment and conflict analysis.

1. Role of the Security Council

Mr. President, we all recall the images of burning Kuwaiti oil wells and the deliberate spilling of oil in the Persian Gulf by retreating Iraqi armed forces after the liberation of Kuwait in February 1991. The Security Council reaffirmed in Resolution 687 that Iraq would be liable under international law for any direct loss of damage, including environmental damage and the depletion of natural resources as a result of its unlawful invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

The Council established a subsidiary body charged with the assessment and valuation of the environmental damage from war, and awarding financial compensation to Kuwait. This example shows that the Security Council can and will hold accountable parties that deliberately cause environmental harm during armed conflict, and will ensure reparations for the harm caused.    

It is also important to note that the existing obligation under International Humanitarian Law, that all parties to an armed conflict have a duty to respect and protect the natural environment. In this regard, we would also like to call all States to fully implement the resolutions of the United Nations Environmental Assembly adopted in 2016 and 2017 on “protection of the environment in areas affected by armed conflict’’ and on “pollution mitigation and control in areas affected by armed conflict or terrorism’’.

2. Reducing the environmental impact of peacekeeping

Mr. President, on my second point, we should have the ambition to ensure that our peacekeeping missions do no harm to the environment. When we design peacekeeping operations, we must consider their environmental impact and reflect on how we can ensure their smallest possible environmental footprint on the ground.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands’ Defence Forces are currently experimenting with innovative solutions to design “bases of the future.” Our base in Gao, Mali, for example, is partly powered by solar energy and is experimenting with water recycling.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands believes that military bases can be self-sustainable and be able to produce their own energy, purify their own water, and minimize the use of fossil fuels.

We also support the work of our split-term partner, Italy, chair of the Group of Friends for Managing the Environmental Impact of Field Operations, and the collaboration with the UN Secretariat in reducing the impact of peacekeeping operations.

3. Enhancing prevention through integrated and joint risk assessment and conflict analysis

Mr. President, my third and final point. The Kingdom of the Netherlands consistently calls for joint risk assessment and analysis across the conflict cycle.

This risk assessment and analysis is relevant prior to the outbreak of conflict – when understanding the root causes of conflict, but it is also relevant when looking at the environmental impact of ongoing armed conflict.

Where relevant and appropriate, and in specific cases, where natural resources could intensify armed conflict, the UN Security Council should consider including protection of critical infrastructure and natural resources in mandates of Peacekeeping Operations and Special Political Missions.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Mr. President, it remains important to:

  • Ensure compliance to the environmental protection obligations under international humanitarian law in armed conflict and hold violators accountable;
  • Consider the environmental impact of peacekeeping operations, looking towards innovative solutions to ensure sustainability; and
  • Call for joint risk assessment and analysis on the environmental factors and ecological changes - to better predict, prepare and prevent the outbreak of conflict.

I thank you.

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