How to Defend the Planet in Law

In the face of a growing raft of evidence that increasingly points to an imminent global catastrophe—the very self-destruction of humanity, even—one means of taking concrete action, as opposed to fatalism and denial, is to promote new legal frameworks that can structure debate and action on this issue. Valérie Cabanes shows that defining the concept of ecocide is the first key step along this road.


The Earth needs the adoption of the Crime of Ecocide to be adopted by the International Criminal Court as the fifth Crimes Against Humanity. This law would have the effect of preventing ecocide as humanity accepted our property role as trustees of life.

The destruction of the Earth’s ecosystem by industrial technologies that show no respect for living things is tantamount to mortgaging the living conditions of current and future generations. It is vital that the people (and legal entities) that are actively responsible for this destruction should be prosecuted when their decisions affect the integrity of life, and therefore the safety of the planet. The crime they commit is that of ecocide—in a sense, the original crime; the crime that destroys the very conditions for habitability on Earth. For several decades now, a series of actors have been seeking to ensure that the intrinsic value of nature and the right of ecosystems to exist are recognized, by inventing the legal means to defend them in court.

In 1986, Doudou Thiam, the Special Rapporteur tasked by the International Law Commission with submitting a draft statute establishing the future International Criminal Court (ICC) to the United Nations General Assembly, suggested that the list of crimes against humanity should be supplemented by a provision making violations of the rules governing environmental protection punishable acts. The text he proposed in Article 12 (“Acts constituting crimes against humanity”) of his draft reads as follows:

The following constitute crimes against humanity: […] Any serious breach of an international obligation of essential importance for the safeguarding and preservation of the human environment. 

The Special Rapporteur added the following comment: “It is not necessary to emphasize the growing importance of environmental problems today. The need to protect the environment would justify the inclusion of a specific provision in the draft code.” 

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