GoJIL Vol. 10, No. 1 (2020)
The Martens Clause and Environmental Protection in Relation to Armed Conflicts
The existing treaty law on the protection of the natural environment during armed conflicts is less than adequate. Treaty provisions relating to international armed conflicts are limited to the prohibition of damage of an extreme kind and scale that has not occurred so far and may hardly be expected from the conduct of hostilities unless nuclear weapons would be used. Even in such a scenario, States possessing nuclear weapons have explicitly objected to the applicability of that treaty law. For internal wars, no pertinent treaty provisions exist in the law of armed conflict. Yet multilateral environmental agreements concluded in peacetime stand as an alternative approach to enhance environmental protection during war. As a civilian object, the environment may not be targeted nor attacked in an armed conflict, but this does not exclude collateral damage, nor does this principle as such offer specific standards for proportionality in attacks.
In an effort to close these apparent gaps of treaty law, the present contribution looks into other sources of international law that could be used. In this context, the author revisits the role of the famous Martens Clause in the interplay of international humanitarian law, international environmental law, and human rights law. The role of the Clause in closing gaps caused by the indeterminacy of treaty law is reviewed and customary rules, general principles, and best practices are considered to this effect. For the protection of the natural environment during armed conflicts, the Martens Clause may, indeed, be used as a door opener to facilitate the creation and application of uncodified principles and rules. Particular standards for proportionality in attacks can be derived from the Martens Clause. Pertinent soft law instruments need to be developed in international practical cooperation and by academia. Yet it deserves further study to explore whether, and to what extent, the Martens Clause, which was adopted in the law of armed conflict, may also apply in post-conflict peacebuilding as a case of interaction between the jus in bello and the jus post bellum, at least as far as the protection of the natural environment is concerned.
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