Why we need a law against ecocide

From claiming lives to threatening the country’s native wildlife population, the Australian bushfires have had an immense impact on the drought-stricken country

Australia is guilty of ecocide.

More than one billion animals have been killed in the multi-state bushfires, and that toll is expected to climb sharply. The scale of the loss of life is unprecedented and beyond comprehension.

However, we humans are so selfish and narrow-minded that animal lives merely form a footnote to our calculations about losses from bushfires and other disasters. We tally the human lives cut short and the property damage, but animal life comes a distant third in our evaluations.

A photo from the front page of The Times last week, featuring a kangaroo in front of a burning house. More than a billion animals are feared to have been killed in the recent bushfires.
A photo from the front page of The Times last week, featuring a kangaroo in front of a burning house. More than a billion animals are feared to have been killed in the recent bushfires. THE TIMES
One billion dead animals are a tragedy for each individual animal: the lives lost and the incomprehensible suffering. Each of those animals felt pain and fear,  exactly as humans do,  and died in terror. The fact that we don’t really care about that, and barely pause to contemplate it, says much about us as a species.

However, although the loss of animal life is shocking, it is neither surprising nor was it unforeseeable.

Australia is a climate-change denier and has failed utterly to act to mitigate the destructive effects of human activity. It has ignored – and continues to ignore – the scientific consensus on what action is required.

It is the world’s second-largest coal exporter and its main political parties support continuing to extract and export coal. Politicians keep focusing on the “cost” of combating climate change, while closing their eyes to the far greater toll that is being paid for failing to act. Australian MP Craig Kelly appeared on British television this week and continued to deny the link between climate change and the Australian bushfires.

Now is the time to change that.

The late British barrister Polly Higgins led a decade-long campaign to make ecocide a crime. In a submission to the United Nations Law Commission in 2010, she explained ecocide as being “the loss, damage or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory … such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.”

Ecocide covers the direct damage done to sea, land, flora and fauna, as well as the cascading impact on the world’s climate. The term was first used in the 1970s at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington, and academics and lawyers have in the decades since then argued for the criminalisation of ecocide.

Ecocide would sit alongside the four other international crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression – which are set out in the 1998 Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court.

Female koala Anwen recovers in Port Macquarie Koala Hospital from burns suffered in bushfires in November.
NATHAN EDWARDS/GETTY IMAGES
Female koala Anwen recovers in Port Macquarie Koala Hospital from burns suffered in bushfires in November.

Higgins’ website, www.ecocidelaw.com, explains that there is currently no international, legally binding duty of care towards the Earth. This means that companies can destroy environments and communities for profit without fear of prosecution.

The website states that existing laws put shareholders first, meaning that the laws of individual nations are regularly contravened in the pursuit of financial returns – often with the consent of governments that issue permits to pollute.

Higgins’ vision was that a crime of ecocide would act as both a brake on companies by making senior executives personally criminally responsible, and discourage government ministers from facilitating harmful activity and make banks and investors less likely to finance it. Like senior executives, ministers would face the prospect of criminal proceedings.

Ecological Defence Integrity was founded by Higgins and Jojo Mehta in June 2017 to lobby for the creation of a crime of ecocide under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. It launched the public campaign Stop Ecocide in November 2017.

Barrister and journalist Catriona MacLennan says it is time to enact laws against ecocide.
Barrister and journalist Catriona MacLennan says it is time to enact laws against ecocide. Cat MacLennan is a barrister and founder of Animal Agenda Aotearoa
Four elements would comprise the crime of ecocide:

* A perpetrator’s acts or omissions causing ecocide

* The actions severely diminishing peace

* The perpetrator having knowledge of actual or possible outcomes; and

* The perpetrator being a senior official.

Ecocide law would also provide legal backing to the campaigns of indigenous communities in many nations to protect their lands.

Ecocide is already recognised as a crime in 10 nations, including the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Vietnam and Belarus.

Scientists have warned humans about climate change for decades, and we have ignored those warnings. As recently as last month, Australia and the United States worked with other nations at COP25 to block stronger action on climate change.

A crime of ecocide would prohibit harmful activity and force governments, businesses and financiers to prioritise clean generation and production.

New Zealand is included in that imperative. We are watching on in horror at the Australian bushfires, but our own action to combat climate change is woefully inadequate. SOURCE

OMNICIDE: Who is Responsible for the Gravest of All Crimes?

Danielle Celermajer calls for accountability for the destruction unfolding in Australia – a crime against humanity she believes is akin to genocide.

As the full extent of the devastation of the Holocaust became apparent, a Polish Jew whose entire family had been killed, Raphael Lemkin, came to realise that there was no word for the distinctive crime that had been committed: the murder of a people.

His life’s work became finding a word to name the crime and then convincing the world to use it and condemn it: genocide. Today, not only has genocide become a dreadful part of our lexicon, we recognise it as perhaps the gravest of all crimes.

During these first days of the third decade of the 21st Century, as we watch humans, animals, trees, insects, fungi, ecosystems, forests, rivers (and on and on) being killed, we find ourselves without a word to name what is happening. In recent years, environmentalists have coined the term ecocide, the killing of ecosystems, but this is something more. This is the killing of everything. Omnicide.

Some will object, no doubt, that the events unfolding in Australia do not count as a “cide” – a murder or killing – because it is a natural phenomenon, albeit an unspeakably regrettable one. Where is the murderous intent? It is difficult to locate, admittedly, but a new crime also requires a new understanding of culpability. Indeed, one of the most serious problems with the laws against genocide is that they were written in a way that requires that the specific intent to destroy a people can be shown to have existed. Even where it did exist, such intent most often remains hidden in people’s dark hearts.

We can, however, identify the political representatives who refused to meet with fire chiefs who had tried to warn of, and act to mitigate, the impending disaster. The same political representatives who approved, and continue to approve, new coalmines in the face of scientific consensus on the effect that continuing to burn fossil fuels will have on the climate in general, and drought and temperatures in particular. The same political representatives who approve water being diverted to support resource extraction, when living beings are dying for want of water and drying to the point of conflagration.

We can identify the media owners who sponsor mass denial of the scientific evidence of the effects of a fossil fuel-addicted economy on the climate. The same media owners who deploy the tools of mass manipulation to stoke fear, seed confusion, breed ignorance and create and then fuel hostile divisions within communities.

We can identify the financial institutions that continue to invest in, and thereby prop up, toxic industries and who support the media owners to protect themselves from accumulating stranded assets. We can identify the investors who use their financial and social capital to support politicians who will protect their financial interests. We can identify a corporate culture and a legal system – populated by lawyers, management consultants and financial analysts – that incentivise or even require companies to maximise short-term shareholder profit and externalise costs to the future and the planet.

And then we can identify  those closer to home.

Business owners and investors whose profits depend on systems of extraction and resource exploitation. Consumers addicted to lifestyles based on resource extraction and the exploitation of the natural world. Citizens who prioritise narrow, short-term interests over the sustainability of the planet. Citizens who lack the courage or fortitude to undertake the social and economic transformations required to give our children and the more-than-human-world a future. Citizens who do not bother to take the time or to make the effort to develop well-informed opinions, but would rather run to the comfort of the truisms of their tribe.

We can also identify the humans and human cultures that have told themselves that they are superior to, and thus have the right to dominate and exploit, other animals and the natural world. That they are the ones who get to flourish and that everything else that is here is here for our use. That other beings are not life but resource.

None of those mentioned in this list developed a specific intent to kill everything. But all of us have created and are creating the conditions in which omnicide is inevitable.

When I was growing up, my parents used to play a Bob Dylan song called Who Killed Davey Moore? about a boxer who died in the ring when he was just 30 years old. Each verse begins with some party – the coach, the crowd, the manager, the gambling man, the boxing writer, the other fighter – answering the title’s question: “Who killed Davey Moore?” They each respond with “not I” and then explain that they were just doing what it is that they do: going to the fight, writing about the fight, throwing the punches and so on. And, of course, they each told the truth.

We Can Only Walk as Fast as the Slowest Among Us when it Comes to Climate Change—CJ Werleman

We too are just doing what it is that we do: ensuring that the largest political donors support our political campaigns, maximising profits, ensuring a high share price, living a comfortable lifestyle, avoiding change, lazily buying back in to the conceit that we humans are special.But, sometimes, just doing what it is that we do is sufficient to kill – not just Davey Moore, but everything.

Omnicide is the gravest of all crimes. And, as with all crimes, those responsible must be held accountable. SOURCE

PRESS RELEASE: Criminal Climate Change Obstruction

PRESS RELEASE: County Sustainability Group, December 29, 2019

 

While the ‘Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ is designed to protect individuals from unconstitutional acts by the government,  the International Criminal Court prosecutes Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. The legal test for criminal liability is whether one knew or should have known that an action or lack of action resulted in criminal behaviour. This is the approach the youth are taking in cases coming before Canadian courts.

Since the United Nations Paris conference in late 2015, climate change indicators have risen sharply. The IPCC reports have issued scientific predictions warning political leaders of the catastrophic results of overshooting a 1.5 Celsius climate target. An unprecedented emergency response is imperative if we are to avoid global ecocide and eventual collapse.

We are in an unparalleled  climate emergency. It is criminal to fail to act immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions including methane and nitrous oxide.  It is criminal to promote the expansion of the tar sands ecocide and to build pipelines to export tar sands bitumen. It is criminal neglect to fail to set hard targets for compliance.

Solutions to climate change are well known and available.

The Parliament of Canada should immediately act to 

    • stop the tar sands ecocide expansion and stop building pipelines to export tar sands dilbit
    • remove all direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels, extractive industries, and cement production. 
    • introduce strict regulations to minimize greenhouse gasses 
    • establish a carbon tax regime with firm targets and timelines to keep emissions at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius
    • Redirect tax revenues to support renewable energy: offshore and onshore wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and ocean power.
    • Invest in R&D for renewable development and climate mitigation 
    • Develop robust, smart power transmission corridors to electrify everything in the new green economy.  For example, building a transmission corridor between Onttario and Quebec would allow cheap, renewable energy from Quebec’s wind and hydro power surplus to flow to Ontario, saving billions, and allow the closure of Pickering Nuclear and cancellation of the Darlington expansion.

Climate criminals are thwarting action. Act to protect future generations.

-30 –


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Image result for canadian youth climate protestA group of Canadian youth have officially filed a lawsuit against the federal government for what they say is the government’s contribution to “dangerous climate change.” Shutterstock

Murray Sinclair has tried for years to shock Canada into confronting colonialism. He’s not done yet

After leading landmark inquiries on racism in Manitoba, residential schools and police discrimination in Thunder Bay, this jurist turned politician says he’s learned that shocking words are sometimes best: Genocide. Apartheid. War. Now, he has more to say.

ILLUSTRATION BY AGATA NOWICKA

The words are so shocking, so evocative of foreign atrocities, that many Canadians are still unwilling to accept that they apply to their own country – words such as “apartheid,” “genocide” and “war.”

But after decades of research from his inquiries into racial abuses in the justice system and in residential schools, Senator Murray Sinclair never hesitates to use those terms – even when he knows they might spark a backlash.

“Sometimes the shock value is worth it,” he told The Globe and Mail.

“It’s about making people sit up and take notice. It’s about getting people out of their comfortable chair and getting them to think seriously about it.”

A strong case can be made that the 68-year-old independent senator and retired judge has done more than any other Canadian to educate the country about the painful realities that have dogged its history and institutions.

As chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada from 2009 to 2015, he documented the existence of cultural genocide in Canada’s residential schools. As a leader of justice and policing investigations in Manitoba and Thunder Bay, he exposed officials who were willfully ignoring racism in their police forces. And in his personal writing and speeches, Mr. Sinclair has hit even harder, describing a web of genocidal policies and apartheid laws that Canadian governments deployed in a “war” against Indigenous people – a war he says never really ended.

Although his formal inquiries have ended, his work is far from over. As he tirelessly follows a busy schedule of speeches across the country this year – including a recent one describing how Indigenous people were excluded from Confederation’s bargains – Mr. Sinclair continues to have an outsized influence in shaping Canada’s understanding of itself.

He sees himself as struggling to dismantle the legacy of a system that can be compared, in many ways, to the apartheid of South African history. Despite frequent hate messages on Twitter and Facebook, he continues to make that point on social media, shrugging off the anonymous attacks.

“There will be people who will always resist those statements,” he said in a two-hour interview in his Winnipeg office, symbolically located on an “urban reserve” under the authority of the Peguis First Nation.

“If you say that there’s been racism by white people against Indigenous people historically, you run the risk of white people standing up and saying, ‘No, we’re not racist.’ But if the evidence is there to support your position, you will also garner a level of support among the non-Indigenous population who will say, ‘Yes, we acknowledge it, so let’s get on with it.’”

At top left, Mr. Sinclair is ceremonially welcomed as TRC chair in 2009. The commission’s task was to learn what happened at the schools, such as Wabasca Residential School, whose unmarked graveyard is shown at top right. In 2015, commissioners unveiled the final report, shown at bottom right. Since then, Canadians have honoured residential-school survivors on annual Orange Shirt Days on Sept. 30, like the one shown at bottom left in Thunder Bay this year.  THE GLOBE AND MAIL, THE CANADIAN PRESS, REUTERS

His inquiries, beginning with the pioneering Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba in the late 1980s, were prompted by tragedies and injustices: the deaths of young Indigenous people in Manitoba and Thunder Bay and in residential schools, neglected by the police and the courts and never properly investigated.

But from those tragedies, Mr. Sinclair found lessons that have shifted Canada’s public debates.

When he was appointed associate chief judge of the Provincial Court of Manitoba in 1988, he became the province’s first Indigenous judge and only the second in Canada. Within weeks, he was immersed in a hugely complex inquiry into the discrimination faced by Indigenous people in the province’s justice system. His relentless work to expose the barriers that hold back Indigenous people – and to find solutions – has scarcely paused in the three decades since then.

In interviews, he chooses his words carefully, speaking in calm and measured tones, even when his anger at historical abuses is clear. In speeches, he uses gentle humour and warm stories of his own family to make his points.

His goal is to reach Canadians who are open to learning about the country’s history – to give them “the sense that now they can talk about it, too.

“It’s not simply about confronting, it’s also about assisting. The intent from that is always, ‘So what are you going to do about it? So what should we do about it?’ Statements like ‘there’s racists in society’ that are not accompanied by ‘now what should we do about it?’ are not very helpful.”  MORE

In 2019, What Should We Do with Sir John A. Macdonald Statue?


SINCLAIR SPEAKS Author, educator and columnist Dr. Niigaan Sinclair spoke at St. Mary Magdalene Church Tuesday evening about all sides of the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

In a Letter to the Editor  (Nov 22, Picton Gazette) Paul Allen wrote:

“Good morning, Councillors

On Tuesday evening I attended a presentation by Dr. Niigan Sinclair on Sir John A Macdonald’s mistreatment of Indigenous children, women, and men in Canada.

I understand that Dr. Sinclair’s presentation was the first in a series of talks that is being scheduled in the County – and that is sponsored, at least in part, by the municipality.

The launch of this series is meant to coincide with the re-installation of “Holding Court” – a sculpture depicting the start of Sir John A Macdonald’s legal career in Picton – in front of the public library on Main Street.

I admit that I’ve not been particularly conscientious in my own response to Dr. Sinclair’s father’s call for truth and reconciliation. I learned many profoundly troubling things about the abuse of Indigenous peoples in Canada on Tuesday evening.

I’d heard of various controversies surrounding public monuments to Sir John A Macdonald and other figures who played major roles in this shameful part of our nation’s history, though I hadn’t paid any of them especially close attention.

On Tuesday evening, I learned much more about how different communities across Canada have been struggling with these difficult issues.

Which brings me to write to you this morning.

I would like to make a deputation to Council on November 26, 2019; meanwhile, I respectfully submit that Council should defer the re-installation of “Holding Court” until there’s been further opportunity for residents in the County to learn of this pending change in our common space and to share their perspectives with Council.

I worry that no amount of interest in people’s opinions after the fact will make up for an apparent lack of interest beforehand.

Thank you.
Paul Allen, Picton

The presentation that Mr. Allen that Mr Allen refers to was given by Dr. Nigaan Sinclair, the son of Dr. Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission.

In his presentation describing Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy, Nigaan Sinclair said,

“I’m aware of his vision of the railway, of a united Canada which we have all inherited. I’m aware he was driven, unwavering, forceful and the prototypical dream of every Canadian. I know that he is the vision that Canadian’s want to imagine themselves as and that even in his death, as Wilfred Laurier said, he is the history of Canada itself. But here is where we get honest. I’m a bit tired of having to defend the merits of Macdonald, because the conversatoin goes as follows: he is a man of his time. He needs to be viewed in the context of the way people viewed the world at that time. We need to forgive him for his complicatedness.”

“Violence is violence is violence,” echoed Sinclair. “What I mean by that is Macdonald’s career, while remarkable and important and impactful, is defined by incredible brutal and draconian violence, particularly against Indigenous Peoples.

“Violence is violence is violence.”—  Dr. Niigan Sinclair

“He is the primary perpetrator of genocide against Indigenous People, something that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has acknowledged, recognized and accepted responsibility for. If the Prime Minister of of a country acknowledges genocide has occurred and the perpetrator is the man we’re speaking about tonight, it’s worth having a conversation and using the word itself.”

So what does the statue actually say to our children? At the very least, just re-positioning the statue must include a plaque that describes Macdonld’s full legacy: father of Confederation and perpetrator of the ongoing Indigenous genocide.

Here is where we need to be honest. Violence is violence is violence.

 

 

 

Chris Selley: Somehow, the missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry just got worse

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau literally copped to Canada committing genocide under his watch. And then, somehow, nothing happened

Back in June, the debate over whether Indigenous Canadian women are victims of genocide drowned out many concerns and criticisms that had been levelled against the inquiry that concluded they are. Those came not least from the families of victims, who alleged a lack of empathy compounded by endless staff turnover, a glacial pace of evidence-gathering and a lack of transparency. This week CBC reported the inquiry also made some very basic factual errors.

The final report alleges “Indigenous women and girls now make up almost 25 per cent of homicide victims,” when of course it’s 25 per cent of female homicide victims. In her preface, commissioner Michèle Audette claims “statistics show … Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than any other women in Canada.” Statistics Canada pegs it at around 2.7 times more likely.

“We were on the ground, we were with the families,” Audette explained. “Sometimes we were able to see that numbers don’t connect to the reality on the ground.”

This validated widespread concerns that the inquiry was disastrously uninterested in collecting actual data about victims, perpetrators and circumstances, but it gets worse: Corrections made to the report in light of CBC’s inquiries are not annotated, nor have they been included in all versions — including the official one filed with the government.

Some are understandably worried the inquiry’s useful findings might be overshadowed by such blunders. But if anything I think it could be a useful reminder, because the discussion following the report’s release came nowhere near running its course. At one point, amid much waffling, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau literally copped to Canada committing genocide under his watch: “We accept the finding that this was genocide, and we will move forward to end this ongoing national tragedy.”

And then … nothing. We are about to have an election campaign in which a head of government has admitted at the very least to failing to prevent genocide — itself a breach of international law, putting Trudeau’s Canada in the same league as Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia. A lot of perfectly mainstream jurists and commentators said they agreed with this. And now, bupkes.

I suspect a lot of people who claim to support the inquiry’s findings are rolling their eyes at this point. It’s not, you know, GENOCIDE-genocide. Justin Trudeau’s not going to wind up in The Hague, for heaven’s sake.

All I can say is read the report. Its legal analysis concedes “there is little precedent in international law for situations where the state is the perpetrator of genocide through structural violence, such as colonialism,” but it very much implicates Canada in GENOCIDE-genocide, “in breach of (its) international obligations, triggering its responsibility under international law.”

It’s not, you know, GENOCIDE-genocide

Most ridiculous were the folks who ostensibly supported the report’s findings but accused skeptics of getting too hung up on the genocide thing….Just because you’re accusing a person or entity of a novel kind of genocide doesn’t mean you aren’t accusing them of something that needs answering for. It’s a big word for a reason. MORE

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London climate change protesters daub Brazilian embassy blood red

“state-sanctioned human rights abuses and ecocide”

An activist splashes red paint over the embassy's facade during Extinction Rebellion climate change protest in front of Brazilian Embassy in
An activist splashes red paint over the embassy’s facade during Extinction Rebellion climate change protest in front of Brazilian Embassy in London

LONDON (Reuters) – Climate-change protesters threw red paint at the Brazilian embassy in London on Tuesday to demonstrate against damage to the Amazon rainforest and what they described as violence against indigenous tribes living there.

Police arrested six activists from the Extinction Rebellion group after they glued themselves to the embassy windows and climbed onto a glass awning above the entrance.

The protesters had splattered red paint and sprayed red handprints over the facade, along with slogans such as “No More Indigenous Blood” and “For The Wild”.

Extinction Rebellion, which disrupted traffic in central London for several weeks earlier this year, said Tuesday’s protest aimed to challenge the Brazilian government over “state-sanctioned human rights abuses and ecocide”.

Brazil contains about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, a bulwark against global warming thanks to the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it soaks up and recycles into oxygen.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, has long been sceptical about environmental concerns. He argues that the Amazon is a resource that belongs to Brazil and should be economically developed. He also criticizes the existence of protected lands.

Critics say his rhetoric has emboldened loggers, ranchers and informal miners, resulting in a dramatic acceleration of deforestation and in violence against the rainforest’s indigenous inhabitants.

Last week, data from Brazil’s own space research agency showed that deforestation on Brazilian territory had jumped around 67 percent in the first seven months of the year. Bolsonaro has rejected the agency’s data and fired its chief. MORE

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