Press Releases

UNIS/SGSM/149
30 October 2009

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

"There Can Be No Durable Peace if the Natural Resources Are Damaged or Destroyed"

Message on the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment In War and Armed Conflict, 6 November 2009

VIENNA, 6 November 2009 (UN Information Service) - More than thirty years since the massive defoliation campaigns of the Viet Nam War, and nearly twenty since the extensive pollution caused by the destruction of 600 oil wells in Kuwait at the end of the first Gulf War, the environment continues to fall victim to armed conflict worldwide. Decades of protracted conflict in the Gaza Strip, for example, have so severely affected groundwater supplies upon which 1.5 million Palestinians depend for drinking and agriculture that those supplies are in danger of imminent collapse.

Furthermore, in at least 18 conflicts since 1990, natural resources have played a significant role. In Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, diamonds, timber and gold have been exploited by armed groups to finance and prolong conflicts. The consequences for the environment and development have been devastating.

While the environment and natural resources enjoy protection under several important international legal instruments - such as the Geneva Conventions - the implementation and enforcement of these instruments remains very weak. There are few international mechanisms to monitor infringements or address claims for environmental damage sustained during warfare.

Because the environment and natural resources are crucial for building and consolidating peace, it is urgent that their protection in times of armed conflict be strengthened. There can be no durable peace if the natural resources that sustain livelihoods are damaged or destroyed.

I call on Member States to clarify and expand international law on environmental protection in times of war. Existing legal instruments should be adapted to reflect the predominantly internal nature of today's armed conflicts. We need also to consider mechanisms for monitoring violations and recommending sanctions and actions for enforcement, recovery and compensation. Furthermore, national legislation must fully reflect provisions of international criminal law that allow for the prosecution of environmental violations during armed conflict.

On this International Day, let us renew our commitment to preventing the exploitation of the environment in times of conflict and to protecting the environment as a pillar of our work for global peace and sustainable development.

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