Twenty-two scientists from Europe, the United States and Africa are calling on governments support the notion of the United Nations' International Law Commission to protect the environment in armed conflict. This would make wanton destruction of megafauna a war crime.
A letter supporting adoption of a convention to protect the environment “call[s] on governments to incorporate explicit safeguards for biodiversity, and to use the commission’s recommendations to finally deliver a Fifth Geneva Convention to uphold environmental protection during such confrontations.”
War takes a "brutal toll" on nature, and possibly drives species to extinction. Poisoned water resources impose harm on vulnerable communities and nature.
Professor Sarah Durant, of the Zoological Society of London, said changing the law would "not only help safeguard threatened species, but would also support rural communities, both during and post-conflict, whose livelihoods are long-term casualties of environmental destruction".
Co-signatory Dr Jose Brito, of the University of Porto, added: "The impacts of armed conflict are causing additional pressure to imperilled wildlife from the Middle East and North Africa.
"Global commitment is needed to avoid the likely extinction of emblematic desert fauna over the next decade."
The UN International Law Commission is meeting in Geneva this month and consideration of a fifth Geneva Convention is on the agenda. It would provide a multilateral treaty that includes legal instruments to protect crucial natural resources in areas where fighting is taking place.