Could “ecocide” be a criminal act?


After months of deliberation, a group of international legal experts unveiled a new legal definition of “ecocide” in June. The definition, if adopted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), would put environmental destruction on a par with war crimes and pave the way for prosecution of world leaders and leaders. companies that knowingly use the destruction of the environment for their own benefit.

The panel of 12 legal experts formally qualified ecocide as “unlawful or indiscriminate acts committed in the knowledge that there is a substantial probability of serious and widespread or long-term damage to the environment caused by such acts”. They propose adding this to the “Rome Statute”, a permanent international treaty-based court, which would make it an official international criminal law that can be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC investigates and tries individuals accused of crimes of concern to the international community, such as war crimes.

For a crime to pay off, the environmental damage would have to be irreversible or not be able to be naturally repaired within a reasonable time, Aljazeera reported. Environmental damage according to the definition would include “the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, as well as outer space”. A well-known example is the long-term negative effects of Agent Orange, a herbicide used during the Vietnam War decades ago that was found to be the culprit for health problems and even caused birth defects. .

[Related: We can’t truly protect the environment unless we tackle social justice issues, too.]

“There was a small gap in the [ecocide] conversation… the term has been around but legally that doesn’t really mean anything. It’s an expressive word that conjures up images of some sort of massive environmental destruction, ”Kate Mackintosh, Senior Executive Director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA Law and one of the experts in crafting the legal definition of ecocide. “To really take its incorporation into law seriously, we thought it was important to have a working definition. ”

The seriousness of the crime is what might justify future prosecution, she said. The law would more or less exist to control individuals like CEOs and senior government officials and prevent (or, if necessary, punish) excessive damage to the planet.

“No one is necessarily interested in throwing a bunch of people in jail,” Mackintosh says. “The point is that if these people know that they are at risk of going to jail for causing massive environmental destruction, they will change their behavior – or they will not cause [ecocide to happen] in the first place.

If successful, ecocide would be prosecuted to the same level as other major crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity. To make this happen, any of the 123 ICC member states can propose ecocide as an amendment to the Rome Statute. After their proposal, the Court’s annual meeting will hold a vote.

Jonathan Adler, professor of law and director of the Coleman P. Burke Center for Environmental Law at Case Western Reserve University, says a clear definition is essential for effective investigation and prosecution in the future if ecocide is added to the list of crimes.

“There is a risk of defining too broadly for it to become something that can be used opportunistically,” he explains. “Yes [ecocide] is defined too broadly, it becomes more difficult to apply consistently.

As important as it is to eliminate a specific definition of ecocide, this is not the first time that it has been debated by legal experts. Under the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, chemical weapons were used to deliberately contaminate the food, water, soil and livestock of opposition communities, according to Adler. However, Hussein was ultimately tried and executed for his crimes and was not prosecuted for ecocide.

[Related: Chevron just got hit with an official greenwashing complaint. Here’s what that means.]

In 2003, Adler wrote an editorial for The National Review describing how diet was the perfect definition of ecocide. The crucial ingredient in the Hussein regime’s environmental terrorism was intent.

“Most of the previous ecocide cases were arguably the result of good intentions gone awry,” he wrote. “The environmental spoliation of the Soviet republics under the Communist regime was the result, in part, of efforts to stimulate economic development. In the case of Iraq, however, the destruction of the environment was a means of destroying a people, if not an end in itself.

This new proposed amendment and definition may be subject to change in the future, and original experts like Mackintosh are open to this, as long as there is hope that their proposal will be taken into account.

“What we needed to do was find something serious enough and believable enough to start the conversation. Once [the international courts] start looking, they can have other ideas and can go in other directions, ”she said. ” Everything is fine. We just wanted to open the door.

About Lucille Thompson

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