The recent proposal for a definition of ecocide by the Stop Ecocide Foundation to be included in the Rome Statute as the fifth main crime along with the crime of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression has sparked academic and political debate around the world. . While the very concept of “ecocide” has become popular in recent times, the term was first coined in 1970 by Arthur Galston, an American biologist, at the Conference on War and National Responsibility. Galson used the term “ecocide” to raise concerns about the overuse of the defoliant agent Orange which was used to inflict environmental damage during the Vietnam War.
The word ecocide comes from the Greek oikos which means house, and the Latin word cedar means an act of killing or demolition. Therefore, the term “ecocide” simply means “to kill our house”. The recent definition of ecocide by the Group of Independent Experts is “unlawful or indiscriminate acts committed with the knowledge that there is a substantial probability of serious and widespread or long-term damage to the environment caused by such acts” in proposed article 8b. Here, the word “shameless” has been explained by “reckless contempt” in order to consider an act as ecocidal. Such a reckless act which would end up causing “serious negative changes, disturbance or damage to any element of the environment” and such damage would “extend beyond a limited geographical area, cross the borders of a state or [be] suffered by an entire ecosystem or a species or a large number of human beings. ”The proposed article also states that the damage caused by the crime of ecocide must be“ irreversible or cannot be repaired within a reasonable time ”. And for the purposes of the application of Article 8 ter, the word “environment” has been defined to include “the earth, its biosphere, its cryosphere, its lithosphere, its hydrosphere and its atmosphere, as well as space. outer “.
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Unlike genocide, the panel’s definition of ecocide was provided without having the requirement to mens rea or specific intent and thus disclosing itself as a strict liability offense. The reasoning behind the proposition of ecocide as a strict liability offense is that environmental damage is generally the indirect result of productivity, and therefore it is hardly possible to establish a direct intention when it is it is environmental damage. Here it can be said that the term ecocide has been used to describe the severity of environmental damage and its devastating impact on our mother earth by establishing that large-scale environmental damage should no longer be subject to certain evidence. However, it should be noted that the crime of ecocide primarily focuses on the massive destruction of the environment and does not necessarily include the little ones.
Although the proposed definition of ecocide to criminalize the act of ecological mass destruction seems a viable solution to protect our ecosystem, also recognizing that the implementation of such a proposal might face certain difficulties and challenges. For example, some argue that the knowledge requirement (in indiscriminate acts) to determine whether an act will cause excessive damage to the environment relative to anticipated socio-economic developments is almost impossible to prove and will create evidentiary barriers. Another challenge would be the burden of the ICC with a large number of cases unless there is a specific forum to deal only with ecocide cases. In addition, cases of the crime of ecocide should be brought against individuals representing companies or against states where the activities of the company are based since companies would not be held liable directly under the Rome Statute. And this will undoubtedly lead to strong opposition to the inclusion of ecocide as an international crime given the strong economic interests involved within these societies.
Apart from this, the alignment of ecocide with international environmental law (IEL) would be a stumbling block since criminal law focuses on the requirement of precision and predictability while the law of the The environment demands “a balance and compromises with few hard and clear prohibitions”. Last but not least, some commentators identify that since the proposed definition attempts to balance socio-economic interests with environmental damage, the term “ecocide” itself is not ecocentric and therefore “not ecocide” at all. However, some may find it surprising, the IEL itself is not purely eco-centric, rather it is an approach that motivates humans to adopt environmental protections by enabling the advancement of environmental law.
Needless to say, despite some challenges, the proposed crime of ecocide suggests a plausible solution to protect our planet by making polluters criminally responsible for massive destruction of the ecosystem. It gives seriousness to our understanding of nature, reminds us that the earth is our home and that we must take viable measures to protect it. The crime of ecocide also expresses the seriousness of the environmental damage, the urgency to reduce the massive destruction caused to the environment, and therefore urges that such an act of mass destruction of the environment no longer be considered as ” second class crime ”. Finally, he once again reminds us that protecting our environment is protecting yourself. It therefore deserves a serious commitment on the part of the international community as a whole.
The writer is a law student at the University of Dhaka.