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International law in a world of conflicts

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Nowadays, wars persist in almost every region of the world, leaving a trail of death, displacement, and destruction. With dozens of active armed conflicts, it is crucial to understand the rules that must govern them under international law.

The International Human Rights Law (IHRL) is a set of norms that seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict and protect people who are not directly participating in hostilities, such as civilians and prisoners of war. These rules, often known as the laws of war or the law of armed conflict, are essential to mitigating human suffering during conflicts. They are based on principles such as the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks, and respect for dignity and human rights.

IHRL also regulates the protection of cultural property, humanitarian assistance, and detention conditions. The Geneva Convention and its additional protocols are some of the most important legal instruments in this field and establish the obligations of the parties to the conflict.

In a world where wars remain a reality, it is vital that States and parties to the conflict respect and apply these rules. Failure to comply with IHRL can lead to greater suffering and international liability for violators.

In addition to the devastating human consequences of armed conflicts, we must also consider its environmental impact. Wars not only destroy lives and cities but also create unsustainable demand for natural resources.

Building and maintaining military forces consume enormous amounts of resources, from base metals to rare earth elements, water, and fossil fuels. Military training requires a large amount of resources, and military vehicles, planes, ships, buildings, and infrastructure also require energy, mostly in the form of oil. Energy efficiency in the military is often low, resulting in significant carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

It is alarming to note that CO2 emissions from the world's largest military forces together exceed the emissions of many countries. Approximately 5.5% of all global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to military activities. However, accountability for these emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is poor, making it difficult to measure and manage this environmental problem accurately.

To address both the persistence of armed conflicts and their environmental impact, an integrated approach is essential. This implies the promotion and compliance with IHRL to reduce human suffering in conflicts and consideration of environmental sustainability in military activities.

States and parties to conflict must strive to reduce the environmental footprint of their military operations. This may include adopting cleaner, more energy-efficient technologies, as well as investing in training and logistics methods that minimize the consumption of natural resources.

Furthermore, it is essential to improve transparency and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions related to military activities. This will allow an accurate assessment of the magnitude of the problem and will facilitate the implementation of measures to reduce these emissions.

Promoting peace and resolving peaceful conflicts is the key to reducing both human suffering and the environmental impact of wars. International law and awareness of environmental impact must be tools that promote a safer and more sustainable world.


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