The Al-Moumin Award, which recognises leading thinkers who have contributed to the field of environmental peacebuilding, was presented in Washington DC on Thursday 3 November. This year’s winner was Marie Jacobsson of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Ambassador for international law issues for her work as UN Special Rapporteur for the UN International Law Commission. In this capacity she has produced three reports dealing with environmental protection in relation to armed conflict.
The Al-Moumin Award is presented by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Environmental Law Institute and others, and is part of a broader effort to foster analysis of and dialogue on the connections between conflict, peace and the environment. Dr Mishkat Al-Moumin is a pioneering Iranian human rights and environment lawyer who has devoted a considerable part of her professional life to strengthening the position and participation of women in peace processes.
Ms Jacobsson has been a member of the UN International Law Commission since 2007 and was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur for the Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict in 2013. For three years she has produced reports on environmental protection before, during and after periods of war. The reports contain a set of principles that place demands on states and other stakeholders to take the environment into account in areas where there are conflicts.
Merging the law of war and international environmental and criminal law
There are currently few environmental protection regulations in international humanitarian law, and until now states have been unwilling to develop any binding regulations. At the same time, environmental protection regulations have developed well in other fields. Ms Jacobsson’s reports have contributed to merging the law of war with international environmental and criminal law, and international human rights law. This has led to the International Law Commission drawing up 18 principles that include preventive measures, the importance of taking environmental aspects into account in peace operations and peace processes, the obligation to cooperate, and the right of access to information to remedy environmental threats, to name a few.
Ms Jacobsson is delighted to have received the award, seeing it as an opportunity to highlight the issue in international contexts.
“The challenge is now to continue drawing attention to this matter and getting states to take it seriously,” says Ms Jacobsson who, now in the final leg of her term, finds herself on the UN General Assembly’s legal affairs committee to provide feedback and hear how states evaluate the work.
Demand for increased post-conflict transparency
An important element in Ms Jacobsson’s reports is the demand for increased transparency from states after periods of war in order to shed light on specific areas that have been affected and where the environment has been damaged. Transparency would lead to greater security for those living in the affected area and to measures being taken more rapidly to restore the environment. This recommendation is very complex, resulting in states generally avoiding the issue.
“As I studied the matter, I found that many states and international organisations have a rather extensive practice with respect to the environment and war. As recently as May this year, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted a resolution on the matter. Most of the measures have been designed as policy documents and not as binding regulations. States would rather not change or develop existing legal regulations as this is a sensitive area. In this respect, it is therefore important that the UNEA emphasises the importance of environmental issues in connection with armed conflicts, and that everyone incorporates this in their own working routines,” says Ms Jacobsson.