The Grass is Never Green in IHL: An Eco-Feminist Take on the Anthropocentric Laws of War [Part II]

Drawing from Ecofeminism 

As Thomas Marler has argued, it seems to be true that the potential or actual benefits of militarisation have always been at the cost of environmental degradation, so much so that changing the course of ecology has now become an inescapable part of armed conflicts. While it is evident that IHL fails to address the environmental aspects of armed conflicts, there is more to it than what meets the eye. It is argued that the ecological crisis of IHL cannot be challenged without challenging its patriarchy and vice versa. The locus of IHL that has significantly shifted from a traditional and conventional viewpoint to a modern, urban, and technologically advanced side, has arguably never been centred around women civilians and their differential lived experiences during armed conflicts. While both the World Wars were fought with rather traditional artillery, the new-age warfare involves much more than just some guns and nuclear weapons. 

Armed conflicts and their landscape are now products of globalisation and capitalism, both as patriarchal as the other. Thus, whether it is conventional warfare or the new one, women have always been disproportionately affected. Aspects of globalisation such as free and open global trade that have led to increased competition in the market of artilleries, warfare. Now artificial intelligence has impelled states to invest in technologically advanced yet environmentally unsound and also gendered means and modes of attack in the interest of national security and humanitarian needs. Be it the chemical attack in Salisbury, where the U.K. contaminated every ecological component of the city or the NATO bombing in Kunduz, the extensive market concerning artilleries and warfare has furthered the environmental degradation and has disproportionately impacted the experiences of women. 

For instance, while bombing, airstrikes, shelling, and even chemical attacks may cause varying degrees of environmental damage, the damage and harm caused by such attacks inevitably leads to mass displacement among civilians. It is amidst such exodus and forced displacement that women find themselves to be much more susceptible to violence, sexual crimes, and hostility. In the case of Yazidi women, escapees, mostly women and children, were compelled to flee through the open fields in harsh weather conditions and were forced to hide to survive, with limited access to food, water, and resources. While one cannot necessarily impute the harsh weather conditions of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and so forth to the occurrence and subsistence of their respective armed conflicts, it is important to note that even the unfortunate impact of climate change that is led by the developed western and capitalistic nations is exponentially ‘gendered’. 

While the ozone layer depletion and changes in temperature are some challenges that are faced by everyone in the 21st CE, they impact women differently. Unequal access to resources; unequal opportunities to change or improve and lastly exclusion from decision-making are primary factors causing gender-based vulnerability to climate change. However, the discourse over gender and environment concerning the differential nature of its impact on women and other gender-minority communities has always been anaesthetic. Giving women a position and a place at the decision-making bodies, generally in the economy and more specifically in relation to the allocation of resources in armed conflicts is one of the pragmatic ways to address women’s stake in their environment. It is therefore important to understand that ‘human’ is not a value-neutral term, especially under laws such as IHL. With the advent of technologically advanced and sophisticated weapons capable of specific targeting, it has become more important than ever for IHL to answer Broidooti’s question of what the ‘human’ is and how the law should protect them. 

Concluding Thoughts 

With the advent of new warfare, artilleries, novel methods of attacks, and its urban settings, IHL has undergone severe and much-needed evolution over the course of the past few decades. While the nature of conflicts has never been the same, one thing that persists to be common in all kinds of armed conflicts, whether international or non-international, is the collateral or incidental damage to the environment. Thus, whether it’s a nuclear bomb or a mere decimal amount of nerve agent, conflicts have and always will have a disproportionate impact on the ecological balance of nature. 

IHL must re-define environmental damages in light of a premise which treats it at par with a civilian object and IHL’s humanitarian aims and goals. It also needs to address with more extensivity and attention the peculiar plights of women who are disproportionately impacted in armed conflicts. What IHL needs to do is to look at the damages in armed conflicts through a framework of inclusivity and the role of exploitative impact in terms of those affected by it, in addition to evaluating the harm in its prescribed conventional sense. 

This is the second part of a two part piece by Anmol Ratan, a third year law student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. Click here to read the first part.

Image: AFP/Getty Images.

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