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Last update: December 11, 2019

Summaries of the Work of the International Law Commission

Protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts

See also: Analytical Guide | Texts and Instruments

At its sixty-fifth session, in 2013, the International Law Commission decided to include the topic "Protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts" in its programme of work, on the basis of the recommendation of the Working Group on the long-term programme of work. The Commission decided to appoint Ms. Marie G. Jacobsson as Special Rapporteur for the topic.

At the sixty-sixth session in 2014, the Commission considered the preliminary report of the Special Rapporteur,1 which provided an introductory overview of phase I of the topic, namely the environmental rules and principles applicable to a potential armed conflict (“peacetime obligations”).

At the sixty-seventh session in 2015, the Commission had before it the second report of the Special Rapporteur,2 which, inter alia, identified and examined existing rules of armed conflict directly relevant to the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflict. The report contained five draft principles and three draft preambular paragraphs. The Commission decided to refer the draft preambular paragraphs and the draft principles, as contained in the report of the Special Rapporteur, to the Drafting Committee, with the understanding that the provision on use of terms was referred for the purpose of facilitating discussions and was to be left pending by the Drafting Committee. The Commission subsequently took note of the draft introductory provisions and draft principles I-(x) to II-5, provisionally adopted by the Drafting Committee.

At its sixty-eighth session, in 2016, the Commission had before it the third report of the Special Rapporteur,3 which focused on identifying rules of particular relevance to post-conflict situations, while also addressing some preventive issues to be undertaken in the pre-conflict phase. The report contained a proposal of three draft principles on preventive measures, five draft principles on the post-conflict phase and one draft principle on the rights of indigenous peoples.4 The Commission referred the draft principles to the Drafting Committee and referred back to the Drafting Committee the draft introductory provisions and draft principles it had taken note of during its sixty-seventh session to address some technical issues. Upon receipt of the reports of the Drafting Committee, the Commission (a) took note of draft principles 4, 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, which had been provisionally adopted by the Drafting Committee, and (b) provisionally adopted the draft principles which it had taken note of at its sixty-seventh session, together with commentaries thereto.5

At its sixty-ninth session, the Commission established a Working Group on the topic, chaired by Mr. Marcelo Vázquez-Bermúdez. The Working Group had before it the draft commentaries prepared by the Special Rapporteur, even though she was no longer with the Commission, on draft principles 4, 6 to 8, and 14 to 18 provisionally adopted by the Drafting Committee at the sixty-eighth session of the Commission, and taken note of by the Commission at the same session. The Working Group focused its discussion on considering the way forward. Upon consideration of the oral report the Chair of the Working Group, the Commission decided to appoint Ms. Marja Lehto as Special Rapporteur.

At its seventieth session, the Commission adopted draft principles 4, 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18,6 which had been taken note of at the sixty-eighth session (2016). The Commission also had before it the first report of the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Marja Lehto,7 which, inter alia, considered the protection of the environment under the law of occupation; protection of the environment in situations of occupation through international human rights law; and the role of international environmental law in situations of occupation, and included proposals for draft principles 6 (2), 15 to 18.

At its seventy-first session, in 2019, the Commission provisionally adopted draft principles 19, 20 and 21, which had been provisionally adopted by the Drafting Committee at the seventieth session. The Commission had before it the second report of the Special Rapporteur,8 which addressed certain questions related to the protection of the environment in non-international armed conflicts, with a focus on how the international rules and practices concerning natural resources may enhance the protection of the environment during and after such conflicts. The second report also addressed the responsibility and liability of States and non-State actors. Seven draft principles were proposed, all of which were referred to the Drafting Committee. On the basis of the report of the Drafting Committee, the Commission provisionally adopted the entire set of the draft principles on protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts on first reading.

The Commission decided, in accordance with articles 16 to 21 of its statute, to transmit the draft principles on protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts, through the Secretary-General, to Governments, international organizations, including from the United Nations and its Environment Programme, and others, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Environmental Law Institute, for comments and observations, with the request that such comments and observations be submitted to the Secretary-General by 1 December 2020.

The work of the Commission on the topic as described above has been proceeding in accordance with the successive resolutions adopted by the General Assembly under the item relating to the report of the International Law Commission.9

1 See document A/CN.4/674 and Corr.1.

2 See document A/CN.4/685.

3 See document A/CN.4/700.

4 Official Records of the General Assembly, Seventy-first Session, Supplement No. 10 (A/71/10), paras. 141 and 142.

5 Ibid., paras. 143–146 and 188–189.

6 See document A/CN.4/L.876.

7 See document A/CN.4/720 and Corr.1.

8 See document A/CN.4/728.

9 General Assembly resolutions 68/112 of 16 December 2013; 69/118 of 10 December 2014; 70/236 of 23 December 2015; 71/140 of 13 December 2016;  72/116 of 7 December 2017 and  73/265 of 22 December 2018.