Switzerland calls for better environmental protection in armed conflicts

Press releases, 02.02.2023

From 24 January to 2 February, Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hosted an online meeting of governmental experts, with the aim of improving protection of the environment in armed conflicts through better implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL). States can now draw inspiration from the good practices shared at the meeting.

Armed conflicts can have a devastating impact on the environment, including the destruction of forests, the pollution of rivers, and soil contamination. These environmental consequences, in turn, threaten people's health, livelihoods and security. IHL aims to ensure a minimum of humanity in armed conflicts, to protect people who are not or who are no longer participating in hostilities, and to restrict the means and methods of warfare. At present, it is generally accepted that the main challenge is not so much a lack of international rules as the implementation of existing rules. This also holds true for the protection of the environment in armed conflicts.

Realistic and pragmatic progress

How to disseminate the relevant rules, evaluate the impact of military operations on the environment, or designate demilitarised zones to protect areas of particular environmental fragility? Hosted online from Geneva, the meeting of experts brought together some 380 specialists from over 120 countries to share their experiences on those three topics. They spoke about the challenges they face, such as the resources and expertise available to them. But they also highlighted examples of good practice developed by their respective state to overcome those challenges, such as consulting with local communities, collaboration between states and new technologies.

Exchanges between states help to achieve realistic and pragmatic progress in the implementation of IHL at the national level. Their strong mobilisation reflects their great interest in taking part in such exchanges. Switzerland had already hosted a first state expert meeting in 2020, on the protection of medical activities in armed conflicts.

Improving implementation at the national level

Respecting, strengthening and promoting IHL are among Switzerland's foreign policy priorities. The protection of civilians in armed conflicts and climate security are also among Switzerland's priorities as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

After the meeting, a chair's summary, prepared by Switzerland and the ICRC, will present the results of the exchanges between the participants, in particular the good practices identified. States will be encouraged to draw on them to advance the implementation of IHL at the national level, leading to better protection for populations and the environment affected by armed conflicts.

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Federal Department of Foreign Affairs