International Day
for Preventing the Exploitation of Environment in War and Armed Conflict

Message by H. E. Jan Kavan, President of the 57th Session of the General Assembly
6 November 2002

This is the first year that we celebrate the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of Environment in War and Armed Conflict. United Nations General Assembly established this day in order to strengthen awareness and vigorously prevent or condemn warfare that deliberately exploits or destroys the environment that is our most precious and life sustaining global public good. It was therefore encouraging that last year the international community established this day to focus world attention on this issue.

We have to admit that the exploitation of nature as a tool in armed conflict is nothing new in human history. In our past history, there are examples of setting fires, poisoning of water-resources or razing of crops or other forms of destroying the environment, that were practiced by warring parties to annihilate livelihoods and inflict humiliation and defeat on the enemy. In the past, the destruction of environment and natural resources affected the civilian population disproportionately to the combatants or armies. In the current and recent conflicts around various regions, with the advances of technology and information, we have witnessed the destruction of environment on much larger scales affecting much larger populations. The consequences are felt by whole societies and nations. With increasing capabilities in lethal warfare, this type of threat and destruction cannot be ignored anymore.

Let me address the serious threats, where a response of the international community is needed to avoid long-term and sometimes irreparable consequences of the exploitation and destruction of nature during armed conflict.

Armed conflict often takes place in areas of critical biodiversity. The situation is even worse when the exploitation of nature and resources is the objective of the conflict, or is a means to finance armed conflict. Therefore it is necessary to protect resources vulnerable to illegal exploitation in conflict situations, such as timber, minerals, water, fish, ivory and so on.

The deliberate destruction of environment or large-scale destruction of natural resources during conflict is another serious threat. The negative impact of burning oil fields during and after the Gulf War, which led to massive pollution of water and air, and contamination of soil, is one such example of the deadly consequences. Also rainforests are most at risk and subject of deliberate destruction and chemical deforestation.

Furthermore, we should not forget the long-term damage that may be caused by use of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear and biological weapons. Their indiscriminate impact can lead to an environment hostile towards many forms of life. Entire species may be wiped out. Their interaction with living forms threatens to alter the very basis of life, as we know it today through mutations or destruction of the genome code.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development has clearly shown that there are many threats we have to face. In this regard, we have to avoid any further escalation of this situation through exploitation of environment in war and armed conflict. The only viable course of action, which would allow us to leave a sound planet to our heirs and their progeny, is to take preventive measures more vigorously and resolve disputes peacefully.


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