Mara Tignino of Geneva Water Hub speaks with David Duncan, Publisher, OOSKAnews in this (LINK) “Water Diplomacy Talks” video interview. The subject is the "Geneva List" of legal principles on protection of water infrastructure.
Contemporary armed conflicts have seen an increase in attacks against and the weaponization of water infrastructure. These acts have had severe consequences on the environment and most importantly on the civilian population, especially on the most vulnerable groups, such as children. Indeed, the most vulnerable groups are usually the ones the most effected by, for example, the disruption of water services, which may, among others, lead to the outbreak of water-borne diseases or exacerbate the spread of epidemics. Other challenges not specific to, but important for the respect for and implementation of the rules on the protection of water infrastructure are the protracted and urban natures of the recent armed conflicts and the proliferation of actors, especially non-state armed groups involved in these conflicts.
The Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure (hereinafter the Geneva List) has been drafted in follow-up to the recommendations of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace (GHLPWP) contained in its 2017 report “A Matter of Survival”, including on strengthening respect for and implementation of International Humanitarian Law in relation to water. The drafting process of the Geneva List has been led by the GWH, acting as the Secretariat of the GHLPWP, and included collaborations with other academic institutions such as the American University of Beirut, University of Amsterdam, Duke University, University of New Hampshire, Leiden University, Lund University, University of Léon and University of Trento and international and non- governmental organizations, including Amnesty International, the Conflict and Environment Observatory, the Environmental Law Institute, UNICEF and UN Environment.
The Geneva List is a reference document prepared for the use of parties to armed conflicts, international organizations, and other practitioners working in the contexts of armed conflicts, including in pre- and post-conflict situations. It is the first text that systematizes the main rules applicable to the protection of water infrastructure during armed conflicts, specifically in the conduct of hostilities, as well as in pre-conflict and post-conflict situations and sets forth good practices.
The objective of the Geneva List is to gather for the first time in a single document the rules on the protection of water infrastructure under different branches of international law, namely International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights Law, International Environmental Law and International Water Law. The aim of the Geneva List is not only to restate obligations stemming from these different branches of international law, but also to demonstrate their interaction with and significance for one another. In this sense, it aspires not only to enumerate the existing binding obligations, but also to supplement them by setting forth further recommendations and good practices, including by means of references to soft law documents.
The scope of the Geneva List is limited to the protection of water infrastructure and installations essential to their functioning such as electrical facilities; the protection of water resources is dealt with, when necessary, in connection with the protection of infrastructure. This is the case, for example, for the principle on the attacks against water infrastructure, such as wastewater treatment facilities, which are intended, or may be expected, to cause significant damage to the environment.
The Geneva List focuses on the protection of water infrastructure during and after armed conflicts. However, due to their nature, some principles are also applicable prior to the onset of an armed conflict. For example, States are encouraged to establish joint commissions or mechanisms with a view to ensuring the protection of water infrastructure located on transboundary water resources in pre-conflict situations.
The Geneva List is addressed to both States and non-State actors. While the issue of the obligations of the latter under International Human Rights Law, International Environmental Law and International Water Law remains unsettled, the existence of International Humanitarian Law obligations of non-State armed groups is undisputed. Consequently, the List sets forth these obligations alongside recommended practices derived from other branches of international law.
The Geneva List builds on existing initiatives dealing with the protection of the environment and armed conflicts. In this regard, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Guidelines on the Protection of the Natural Environment in Situations of Armed Conflict and the International Law Commission (ILC) Draft Principles on the Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflicts should be mentioned as important instruments to clarify the content of the principles protecting the environment in armed conflicts.
The Geneva List also relies on the UNICEF’s initative “Water under fire” that contains striking data on the impact of armed conflicts on children. The global aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and specifically SDG 6 to “leave no-one behind” cannot be achieved without significant progress in fragile and conflict-affected states. In these settings, the 2016 Agenda for Humanity calls for the respect of the rules of war. Governments and international organizations, aid providers and the private sector, local communities and individuals are all called to commit to implementing concrete initiatives aimed at making the Agenda a reality.
The Geneva List has the ambition to be among these concrete initiatives to uphold the norms that safeguard humanity even during wars.