We need an international environmental criminal court now

The world needs to get serious about protecting the planet.


“Confraternity of the living sun, make the embers of financial and industrial internationalism pale upon the hearth of the earth.”– DH Lawrence

“The major problems in the world are the result of the differences between how nature works and the way people think.”– Gregory Bateson 

It was not a lawyer or economist who uttered those words about the “financial and industrial internationalism” but a poet and a prophet generations ahead of his time. The world convulses and fires sear across the face of the Earth. I speak not as a PhD economist or lawyer from Harvard or Oxford, for Mother Nature does not give awards or accolades. Her wisdom is of an incomparable, multimillennial mind we have lost touch with on a grand scale. I write these words because we have this year in which to start reversing the ways of our cannibalistic species or we lose the biosphere.

We have already lost the first 20 percent of the 21stcentury just as we have lost almost 20 percent of the rainforest in South America. It may go into dieback and become a savanna. To this end, in memory of Polly Higgins — who fought to make ecocide a part of the human conversation — to answer Prince William’s Earthshot challenge, to underscore what the International Bar Association has long recommended, it is time humanity create an International Environmental Criminal Court, representing all continents, to enforce environmental protection across borders, and to minimize damage to what remains of our only life support system. Before it is too late.

My son Lysander when he was 8 years old looked at the full moon rising over the Atlantic and said, “We have landed on the moon but we haven’t landed on Earth yet.” This year for the third time in a decade we were reminded of the extravagant fragility of the cryosphere in Greenland spilling 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean, an event that will upturn civilization as we know it. It seems especially relevant that a young boy was able to recognize the aberrant behavior of the adult world given that teenagers are leading the way with global activism and a universal declaration for saving the planet. The children’s crusade in 1212 failed. Today’s crusade cannot. We have become “cosmic outlaws” in the words of Henry Beston. The Law of Nature and Nature’s God was written into the Declaration of Independence abetted by the elders of the Iroquois Confederacy. What have we done with Nature since this country’s inception, since the Enlightenment? 

I was told 20 years ago by Southwest native elders that 2020 is the point of no return. How prophetic those words seem today. Do we still have time for waking up to the realities of our new geologic era? Tipping points in the world’s rainforests, the Arctic and oceans are being reached yearly. Witness the Amazon fires. Witness the apocalypse of Australia now. Witness the denialism of its conservative leaders. What will there be left of Australia by the end of the summer, never mind the end of the decade? The coal robber barons have hijacked an entire continent. We know the science; we have exulted in numbers for generations. The experts have spoken. The James Hansons who warned us about carbon dioxide emissions screamed the alarm decades ago.

The world has become asphyxiated with numbers. Numbers of voters disqualified from voting in the U.S. The fascination with Gross Domestic Product. Earnings and mind-numbing profits on Wall Street. Astronomical military expenditures. It is what DH Lawrence prophetically called “industrial internationalism.” One thing is certain: We have one planet and going to the moon again or Mars will not solve our terrestrial tribulations. Globalization as Jerry Mander warned in his tome The Case Against the Global Economy, has wreaked havoc on the world order. Demonstrations are weekly erupting like firecrackers. It seems that EF Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” was forgotten in the storm of economic profits that supported the 1 percent. And today the bedrock of existence trembles.

I helped alert the world to the elephant slaughter about 10 years ago. At first, no one in the media cared. I tried every major magazine to no avail and finally after five months of unrelenting concern convinced Vanity Fair to send Alex Shoumatoff to Africa. The result was “Agony and Ivory,” a blistering landmark article on the elephant’s plight across an entire continent. It was perhaps the greatest piece of investigative journalism on a single species ever. It galvanized the conservation world and warned of an “extinction vortex.” And indeed, despite the outrage and international efforts we still lost a third of Africa’s elephants and the fight is not yet over. But the world mobilized. China broke down its internal ivory market. Today, barely a decade later, it is every living being on Earth that is menaced. Insects, birds, ocean plankton are diminishing, and the social fabric of humanity is fraying.    

The idea of an environmental court is not novel, but its implementation would be. We need sanctions, a moral compass and immediate legal council to bear on countries’ actions to protect what is left of the planet. The Amazon does not belong to just Brazil, just as the Arctic’s icecap does not belong to the United States. 

Is it too much to ask the world to create an International Environmental Criminal Court that would sanction countries who allow environmental activists to be killed by the dozens from the Philippines to Mexico? Can we as a species prevent total ecocide and ensure restrictions on extractive and waste industries, oversee adhering to the cop21 Paris Climate agreement and generally mandate the preservation and hopefully regeneration of the world’s biodiversity? We have fought against imperialism, slavery and colonialism, although leftovers from all those have helped create the world as we know it. But the overarching, triumphal issue of our time is the life force of the planet. This decade could be the synthesis of the previous two if we manage to transcend our differences. We still operate with a Stone Age mind, acting with 21st century technology. The deadliest combination possible. What does this portend?  Can we allow humanity to dredge rare earth minerals in the oceans? Can the Arctic be completely devastated by the oil industry? It is time a Global Green Deal be implemented. Antarctica needs to be off limits to all mining interests. The IECC would make sure to that. Palm oil extraction that is scouring the forests of the world, and now Africa needs to become a thing of the past.  

I remember the words of the native Hopi, Dine and Apache elders from the Southwest who warned us of this time 20 years ago. Few in the dominant society listened to them. One grandmother from San Ildefonso told me, “We are living on borrowed time.” We have become overly cerebral and schizophrenic as a species. Need has been co-opted by systemic greed as EF Schumacher used to remind us.

After being transformed by his epic trip to Africa, Carl Jung came to New Mexico in 1925. It was there that the elder Mountain Lake admonished Jung that the white people thought with their head. Jung surprised, wondered what they should think with. The heart, the elder answered. It is the same kind of response an elephant researcher told us when she said that saving the Earth will come through poetry and not just science and the intellect. It will come through an emotional response to what needs saving.

An environmental court will have its many layers of complications and complexities that make up legal challenges today. But it cannot fail in humanity’s commitment to life. We do not need more satellite systems in space despite what Elon Musk tells us. That is economics, technology, the old system. Humanity, as Carl Jung would have warned us, must be able to die to one’s ego while letting slavery, apartheid, colonialism and ecocide die as well. It is the biggest challenge our species will ever face. A court for the environment is only a step but it could function as a much-needed brake towards a behavior that threatens life on a global scale. What we have to do is save the oceans, the bees, the forests, indeed what is left of the human soul. 

A small continent with prehistoric wonders is going up in flames. An elder in Kakadu, northern Australia, born under a rock escarpment, told us we needed to listen to the trees and the stars, they are talking to us. What would he say today knowing that a continent with the second oldest culture on Earth was ablaze because its leaders did not hold itself accountable to anything but shareholders? That a new coal plant was being planned in Queensland not so far from the Barrier Reef? Australia, whose bird life, koalas and plants mystify us, is in the throes of a global calamity. 

When I was in high school, I knew I needed to see the birthplace of humanity in East Africa. Four months in what many city dwellers would call the middle of nowhere were more meaningful and engaging than anything I ever learned amidst the glass towers, computers and steel palladiums of man. It was a harsh paradise but a garden of unimaginable splendor and challenge. When Charles Lindbergh landed in East Africa almost a century ago, he arrived in a plane that had traversed the world and opened up the trajectory of the jet age. Lindbergh, in his autobiography wrote that “many Maasai thought that ‘civilization’ is not progress.” They feel sorry for the white man because he has lost contact with nature. They question our basic values. “You speak of freedom in your country,” a Maasai elder told me, “but we have known freedom far greater than yours.” Bureaucrats, business elite of the world, well intentioned diplomats take heed. We are running out of time. The children of today and children of tomorrow are asking what has mankind done to this unique gem in the universe? This decade is the last in which we can even begin to hope to stabilize what is left of the world. SOURCE

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.
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

Vulnerable Nations Call for Ecocide to Be Recognized As an International Crime

The nations of Vanuatu and Maldives are spearheading an effort for the International Criminal Court to consider wide-scale environmental damage a global crime. Photo credit: Stop Ecocide

The Pacific island of Vanuatu has called for ecocide— wide-scale, long-term environmental damage—to be considered an international crime equivalent to genocide.

At a meeting of the International Criminal Court in the Hague on Tuesday, ambassador John Licht of Vanuatu said the court should consider an amendment to the Rome Statute, which sets the court’s legal framework, that would “criminalize acts that amount to ecocide. We believe this radical idea merits serious discussion.”

The International Criminal Court is currently responsible for prosecuting four internationally recognized crimes against peace: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. A fifth could be included through an amendment to the Rome Statute.

The court’s authority extends only to the 122 nations that have ratified the Rome Statute, a list that does not include the United States, China, India and Israel.

Vanuatu, which is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, has been an advocate of climate justice at international forums for many years, but has been more vocal since 2015, when Cyclone Pam devastated the island, an example of a major storm whose impact was made significantly worse by climate change.

Vanuatu’s statement is a major victory for the Stop Ecocide campaign, which was launched by British lawyer Polly Higgins two years ago. The organization wants any agreed-upon criminal definition of ecocide to include the impacts of climate change as well as other forms of environmental harm.

Until now, Vanuatu was the only state to have formally announced it was working with the campaign, which provides diplomatic and practical help for countries to get to the negotiation table. The Republic of Maldives announced on Thursday that it was adding its support as well.

Ahmed Saleem, member of the Maldives parliament and chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Climate Change and Environment, said in a statement the “time is ripe” to consider an ecocide amendment, emphasizing how serious a threat climate change posed to his nation.

“We see little or no concrete action at multilateral level to bring about transformative changes necessary to prevent the repercussions of climate change,” Saleem said. “It is time justice for climate change victims be recognised as part and parcel of the international criminal justice system.”

To change the Rome Statute, the head of a state that is party to the International Criminal Court must submit a formal amendment. If a two-thirds majority approve the change, it can be adopted into the Rome Statute and countries can formally ratify it.

The idea of ecocide has been around for nearly 50 years and had been under serious consideration in early drafts of the Rome Statute. But it was dropped due to resistance from a few countries including the United States and the United Kingdom.

According to the Stop Ecocide campaign, it is the first time since 1972 that a state representative has formally called for ecocide to be recognized at this kind of international forum.

Jojo Mehta, spokesperson for Stop Ecocide and co-ordinator of its international diplomatic and campaign teams, said she is optimistic that a formal amendment could be submitted as early as next year, although others believe it is unlikely to happen until at least 2021.

“This is an idea whose time has not only come, it’s long overdue,” said Mehta. “It’s committed and courageous of Vanuatu to take the step of openly calling for consideration of a crime of ecocide, and it was clear from the response today that they will not be alone. The political climate is changing, in recognition of the changing climate.  This initiative is only going to grow – all we are doing is helping to accelerate a much-needed legal inevitability.”

Pope Francis has lent his support to the idea of making ecocide a crime, proposing in November that ‘sins against ecology’ be added to the teachings of the Catholic Church. SOURCE

Outlawing ‘ecocide’: The battle to make a crime of environmental destruction

Picture courtesy of crustmania

CommonSpace speaks to Cath Andrews of Ecological Defence Integrity, who seek to have wide-scale environmental destruction ranked alongside genocide and war crimes under international law

AS ENVIRONMENTAL activists around the world press for greater action to combat the climate emergency, much attention has understandably been paid to their high-profile campaigns, such as this year’s climate strikes, and to proposed legislative solutions, such as the various formulations of a Green New Deal being considered in both the United States and Scotland.

However, Ecological Defence Integrity, a non-profit organisation founded in 2017 by the late UK barrister Polly Higgins and the environmental campaigner Jojo Mehta, is now working towards a legal approach to ending environmental destruction – by gaining recognition of ‘ecocide’ as an atrocity crime in the International Criminal Court.

As defined by the EDI, ecocide is the “serious loss, damage or destruction of ecosystems, and includes and climate and cultural damage.” Should this be recognised as an atrocity crime, it would rank alongside genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in international law.

Ahead of the International Criminal Court’s annual conference at the Hague in December, CommonSpace spoke with EDI representative Cath Andrews about ongoing efforts to ratify and enforce a law against the large-scale destruction of the natural living world.

Under the rules of the ICC, any member-state, regardless of size, can propose an amendment to the court’s governing document, the Rome Statue. This amendment can be adopted with a two-thirds majority. Coupled with the fact that any member state can then ratify and enforce, this makes it the only global forum where ecocide can be outlawed by those nations which suffer from its effects – and place those who continue to pollute in the dock.

Regarding the future prospects of such a law, Andrews explains: “The earliest an amendment could be proposed is 2020 (three months must pass before it can be discussed at a meeting of States Parties).

“We have not yet drawn the necessary line making ecosystem destruction morally unacceptable – and that is what is needed.” Cath Andrews, Ecological Defence Integrity

“We are working with Pacific small island states. Diplomatic confidentiality means that we are unable to disclose all developments, but leading Pacific voice Vanuatu has publicly acknowledged working with us.”

Despite the process of enacting such a law being in the early stages, Andrews argues that its eventual success is “inevitable”, given the urgency of the current global environmental situation.

“We believe a law of this kind will be inevitable at some point given the current state of ecological emergency we are witnessing,” says Andrews. “We consider it our job to speed up its establishment, and that’s why we’re working with those who have the biggest incentive to table it – the islands at the sharp end of climate change who are already going underwater, suffering typhoons and extreme weather events on a regular basis.”

While there may be a sense of moral outrage amongst many over the current climate emergency and what activists view as an insufficient response from the world governments, the EDI’s hopes of bringing a binding legal component to the crisis go further, Andrews explains – something which has proven to be a source of difficulty in advancing a recognition of ecocide in international law.

“Our main obstacle is one of perception,” Andrews says. “Those who are deeply embedded in the current economic thinking find it very hard to grasp what many land-based and indigenous cultures know as the simple truth – we cannot continue to destroy the ecosystems that sustain us if we are to survive and thrive on this planet.

“But we have not yet drawn the necessary line making ecosystem destruction morally unacceptable – and that is what is needed. In our so-called ‘first world’ culture, that line is drawn by criminal law. No amount of climate litigation will draw it, and no amount of regulation will draw it. As one head of a UK bank said a few years ago, when asked why the bank continued to fund ecocidal activities: ‘It’s not a crime.’”

Despite the EDI’s focus on international law, Andrews does not discount the necessity of legislative and campaign-based efforts to combat environmental destruction.

“All are important,” Andrews argues, “but it is criminal law that shifts the cultural moral baseline. The harm will continue until it is no longer permitted. So, while political and campaigning approaches are all hugely helpful, without ecocide law they are infinitely steeper roads to climb.

“We see this law as the key to unlocking a different way of approaching both human activity and our relationship with the natural living world.  It shifts the baseline towards a fundamental principle of ‘first do no harm’.”  SOURCE


Ecocide Law places Canadian politicians in jeopardy

“I began to realise that rights in isolation are not enough. If you have rights, there are corresponding duties and obligations – it’s like two sides of the coin. And what gives enforcement to your rights are the responsibilities that are put in place in criminal law.”— Polly Higgins

Image result for polly higgins

Polly Higgins, Earth’s lawyer, focused on making Ecocide the fifth crime against peace under the jurisdiction of  the International Criminal Court by 2020. Her untimely death has energized her followers to realize this goal.

Polly’s Ecocide act gives primacy of jurisdiction over national governments’ law. It also removes the defence of intent. Whether the intent of an action is to avoid ecocide is irrelevant.  The test is whether the principal actor knew or should have known that their actions would result in Ecocide.

The Ecocide Act focuses on bringing those with principal responsibility for acts of Ecocide, be they corporate directors, politicians, financiers, insurers or individuals, to justice for the destruction of our Earth. 

Several Canadian politicians could find themselves charged under this law.

Here are some possible future headlines: 

The International Criminal Court  charges Justin Trudeau with Ecocide

Image result for justin trudeau The Alberta tar sands and Ecocide are virtually synonymous. Using public money, Justin Trudeau has heavily subsidized  tar sands producers, ignoring the IPCC’s call to reduce climate-destroying emissions; he has encouraged the rapid  exploitation and expansion of Canada’s largest sacrifice zone; he has allowed the development of vast, toxic tailings ponds, ignoring their environmental legacy and threat to humanity and future generations; he has used public resources to buy a pipeline to triple tar sands bitumen transportation to offshore markets.

Trudeau’s defense,  that he was always protecting Canadian jobs, would be dismissed as irrelevant.

The International Criminal Court  charges Andrew Scheer with Ecocide

Image result for andrew scheer

Andrew Scheer is vulnerable to charges because he argues that Trudeau’s efforts to develop and exploit the tar sands are not happening fast enough. As a cheerleader for tar sands development as the lynchpin of the Canadian economy, Scheer would find himself vulnerable.

The International Criminal Court  charges Jason Kenney  with Ecocide

Image result for jason kenney

Jason Kenney’s boosterism of the Alberta tar sands puts him in legal jeopardy. His oil and gas subsidies, his removal of environmental safeguards, and the support for fracked natural gas with its huge environmental footprint and  its serious contamination of water, all can be cited as evidence of his willingness to prioritize Alberta’s economy over his duty to protect the public’s right to a healthy environment. 

The International Criminal Court  charges John Horgan with Ecocide

Image result for john horgan

Allowing construction to continue on the Site C Dam and the flooding of rich farmland to provide cheap electricity to carbon intensive natural gas fracking operations cannot reconciled with Horgan’s duty to protect the environment.  John Horgan has offered subsidies and tax breaks to B.C.’s single largest carbon polluter, LNG Canada.  LNG development is notoriously carbon intensive. The LNG Canada project would emit 8.6 megatonnes of carbon per year in 2030, rising to 9.6 megatonnes in 2050. Fracking is associated with massive water use (the average frack uses between five million and 100 million litres of water), radioactive waste, earthquakes, dangerous air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Health impacts were removed from the purview of the scientific panel tasked with reviewing fracking.  His support for the Coastal Gaslink pipeline development on Wet’suwet’en territory continues to ignore First Nations’ rights and their opposition.

Declare yourself an Earth Protector on the website here.

Putting ecocide on a par with genocide

Readers give their views on strengthening protection of the environment

‘The pursuit of wildlife for “trophies” to adorn our walls … is the cruellest wildlife crime of all.’ Photograph: Heinrich van den Berg/Getty Images

Calls for a new Geneva convention to protect wildlife and nature reserves in conflict zones are welcome (Make environmental damage a war crime, say scientists, 25 July). But we should go further. Humanity is waging a veritable war on wildlife and nature every day. We are destroying habitats, changing the climate and persecuting animals that encroach on farmland that was once their home. The pursuit of wildlife for “trophies” to adorn our walls and with which to pose is the cruellest wildlife crime of all. Scientists have warned that “sport” hunting of lions is leading to a loss of genetic diversity that puts their survival at risk. The combined rate of deaths from poaching and trophy hunting is now greater than the birth rate of elephants. Permits are granted to hunters to shoot species that are extinct in the wild and of which just small numbers remain in private collections.

The late Polly Higgins, the acclaimed environmental lawyer, called for ecocide to be considered a crime on a par with genocide. If we are serious about protecting wildlife, world leaders should implement her recommendation. We must also take steps towards abolishing trophy hunting, a “sport” that is as senseless as it is damaging to wildlife. We can begin by banning the import of hunting trophies into Britain, and by calling on Cites at its conference next month to close the loophole that presently allows trophy hunters to shoot endangered species. SOURCE

What is ‘ecocide’ and why did Extinction Rebellion park their boat outside the law courts?

Oxford Circus boat
Protesters occupied Oxford Circus as part of Extinction Rebellion demonstrations. Getty Images

Earlier this week Extinction Rebellion parked a blue boat outside the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand and occupied the busy London street with a sit-down protest, causing traffic jams and commuter chaos. It came at the start of a week of protest events around the country.

This is not the first time the non-violent environmental protest group have caused disruption in London. In April this year, they occupied Oxford Circus (where they parked a pink boat) and brought traffic on Waterloo Bridge to a standstill with 11 days of protests that the group described as the ‘biggest act of civil disobedience in recent British history’.

But while some protesters have been arrested for public order offences, the demonstration outside the High Court was not related to any of those cases. Instead, it was in memory of an environmental lawyer called Polly Higgins who died earlier this year, and (among other demands) to promote her proposal for a new international law criminalising ‘ecocide’.

What is ‘ecocide’?

According to the Stop Ecocide campaign, ‘Ecocide is serious loss, damage or destruction of ecosystems including climate and cultural damage.  We believe ecocide should be recognised as an atrocity crime at the International Criminal Court – alongside Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.’

A more legalistic definition of ecocide states that it involves ‘loss or damage to, or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory(ies), such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.’ (‘Peaceful enjoyment’ in this context means ‘peace, health and cultural integrity’.)

That definition comes from the website Ecocide Law which further explains that ‘Despite the existence of many international agreements – codes of conduct, UN Resolutions, Treaties, Conventions, Protocols etc – the harm is escalating. Not one of these international agreements prohibits ecocide. The power of ecocide crime is that it creates a legal duty of care that holds persons of “superior responsibility” to account in a criminal court of law.’

They argue that if ecocide is established as an international crime, prosecutions could be brought by nations who are signatories to the Rome Statute, under which the International Criminal Court operates.

A model law

model law has been drafted that would amend the Rome Statute to create a specific offence of ecocide. It would create ‘an international and transboundary duty of care’ both on governments or relevant ministers and businesses who exercise rights over a given territory to ‘ensure ecocide does not occur’.

The statute currently recognises four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and (since 2010) the crime of aggression. The ICC can only investigate and prosecute those crimes in situations where states are unable or unwilling to do so themselves.

Any signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court can propose an amendment, but such an amendment requires the support of a two-thirds majority of the states parties, and will not enter into force until it has been ratified by seven-eighths of the states parties. This process is likely to take some time, even if a state party takes the first step of proposing the necessary amendment. However, it has been done before, by the addition of the crime of aggression in 2010. So it is certainly not impossible.

Can it work?

Although it may sound unfamiliar, the concept of ecocide is not new. Use of the term goes back half a century, to the early 1970s when the use of chemical defoliants such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War were condemned by environmentalists as a form of ecocide. It appears to have been included in the early versions of the Draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind (as the Rome Statute was initially known), but was dropped by the time it had been formalised and signed as the Rome Statute of the International Court in 1998.

Polly Higgins proposed adding it back in to the Statute at the United Nations in 2010 and continued to campaign for such an amendment, most recently at the Hague Talks to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 2018. But it is clear that such amendment could be a long and drawn out process and, even if successful, it could be many years before any prosecutions were concluded.

How effective would such a remedy be as a deterrent to environmental destruction which, by its nature, needs both urgent and concerted international action. Is transnational criminal law really the best instrument to use? MORE

Update on the campaign to promote Ecocide Law

The Polly Higgins: Sailing into British national news

Polly's funeral procession

This week, 5 cities in the UK had Extinction Rebellion boats blocking the roads to bring awareness to climate and ecological emergency.  The London boat was blue, parked in front of the Royal Courts of Justice – and was named Polly Higgins!    Extinction Rebellion hoisted a flag saying “MAKE ECOCIDE LAW”.

Jojo Mehta (above) was invited to speak about Polly and the campaign, and was interviewed by a number of journalists, even ending up on the national evening news (Channel 4).   

You can see Real Media’s excellent piece about the event below (approx 12 mins).

Extinction Rebellion has been spreading the word about us on social media for a while now, and has explicitly endorsed the campaign, see HERE.

As Jojo noted in her speech, major freedoms won in the past – from the banning of slavery to the suffragettes, from conscientious objectors to civil rights – have always had two key components: a strong grassroots movement and legal changes.

So there is a strong complementarity here… and while not every Earth Protector may want to blockade the streets, we think everyone blockading the streets will want to be an Earth Protector and help bring about ecocide law.

Ecocide TV panel show

The last month has been all about raising the profile of ecocide law, especially in the UK.  The above video is a TV panel show called RoundTable – this episode first aired on Sky at the end of June and is now available on YouTube.  Jojo Mehta took part alongside lawyers and academics to discuss Polly Higgins’ work and the potential of ecocide law.

Extinction Rebellion boat named in memory of Stroud eco-warrior Polly Higgins

A BLUE boat named after Stroud eco-warrior Polly Higgins was used to block traffic in this week’s Extinction Rebellion protests.

The ‘Polly Higgins’, named after the Stroud based lawyer who campaigned for an international crime of ecocide, had been parked outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London since Monday as part of a week-long protest.

But as of 7.40am this morning, Extinction Rebellion boats have been banned from London, after the Metropolitan Police imposed a new condition on the climate change protests.

A force spokesman said: “The information and intelligence available at this time means that the Met feels this action is necessary in order to prevent disruption.”

Met commander Jane Connors said: “The condition imposed today is limited and absolutely allows lawful protests to continue.

“My officers continue to engage with those exercising their right to protest however, we need to balance this with the rights of those wishing to go about their daily lives and action will be taken against those who choose to ignore this condition and/or break the law.”

The Polly Higgins was one of five boats used by protesters to stop traffic in Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, and London as part of a five-day ‘summer uprising’.

Jojo Mehta, Polly’s friend and colleague, said: “I know that whatever dimension she’s in, she’s smiling at the fact that this boat has been named after her by Extinction Rebellion.

“It’s absolutely resonant that this is in front of the Royal Courts because Polly was of course a lawyer.”

In a statement Extinction Rebellion said that they were protesting outside the Royal Courts of Justice ‘to demand the legal system take responsibility in this crisis, and ensure the safety of future generations’ environment, especially when deliberate.

They said they are there with ‘a clear and simple demand: make ecocide law’.

“In making ecocide law, the role the UK legal system can play in averting catastrophe is clear.”  SOURCE


Polly Higgins and the Ecocide Law

“I began to realise that rights in isolation are not enough. If you have rights, there are corresponding duties and obligations – it’s like two sides of the coin. And what gives enforcement to your rights are the responsibilities that are put in place in criminal law. So, your right to life is governed and protected by the [law against] murder, or homicide – or, at a collective level, genocide.” — Polly Higgins

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Polly Higgins died on 21/4/2019 aged 50 but not her work. Ecocide is her legacy to all of us, let’s honour it.

Let’s turn this sad event into a celebration of the wonderful woman she was and her brilliant work she did as a barrister for the environment by telling everyone about the ecocide law. Thereby we can become enough to insist that all our governments across the world recognise it as a law. Ecocide is her legacy to all of us, let’s honour it.

For all those who haven’t heard about Polly Higgins and her ecocide law let’s start with a short introduction. You can find more about Polly Higgins and the ecocide law on her website. As Polly Higgins was a barrister she used her expertise to engage in protecting our environment. She was so much committed that she gave up her house and her job to focus on saving our planet and thereby human kind. Thus she developed the ecocide law which would recognise harming our environment as a criminal act on an international level that allows to prosecute it. Therefore, she intended that ecocide law should be a part of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – besides genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression – where those core crimes are established. It is important that it becomes a part of an international law as those who commit these crimes act globally and are not prosecuted by their countries or any other country. Polly Higgins considered ecocide as a crime against humanity and so it should be recognised and prosecuted. It is now our task to bring her ideas and work to life.

Most of the actions destroying the planet we are all a part of are carried out by a small group of rich people. Some examples of destruction are already mentioned by George Monbiot in his wonderful Guardian article about Polly Higgins. These few people do it for their personal advantage and as Naomi Klein convincingly explains in her books these people not only cash in for example on the oil they also take the destruction of our environment and the thereby resulting chaos into account. It is called disaster capitalism and of course they profit from the destruction they cause as well. Until now they get away with ecocide as there are no laws to hold them liable. This has to change. MORE