The Hague Peace Projects, a non-profit peace organization based in The Hague, ‘The International City of Peace and Justice’, has joined the mission to “Stop Ecocide” with the specific goal of including ecocide as the fifth crime in the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) under the Rome Statute.
This is being done in collaboration with the Republic of Vanuatu, the Independent State of Samoa, Stop Ecocide International and the Co-Chairs of the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide in association with the Institute for Environmental Security.
Ecocide is a term that has been coined to refer to the destruction of the natural environment and its inhabitants. It can be an intentional act or an unintentional consequence of actions that cause environmental harm, such as pollution and habitat destruction.
What is the problem?
Ecocide is not recognized by international law, but we all know it exists because we see it around us every day: from deforestation to overfishing; from climate change caused by CO2 emissions to plastic waste drifting through our oceans.
Ecocide – A Poison for Future Generations
There are many examples that show what happens when we destroy nature for our own gain and without regard for the livelihood of current and future generations. Has the time come for ecocide to become a crime under international law?
In this article, we will dive into the topic of ecocide and examine how far we are in the process of recognizing it as an international crime.
What is ecocide?
Ecocide at work?
Ecocide is the extensive damage, destruction, or loss of ecosystems. It can refer to the damage done to individual ecosystems, such as forests, wetlands, and coral reefs. It can also refer to extensive damage done to the Earth’s ecosystems as a whole, such as the depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, and acid rain.
The term “ecocide” was coined by the plant biologist Arthur Galston in a 1970 conference paper. He defines ecocide as “willful and permanent destruction of environment in which people can live in a manner of their own choosing”.
Ecocide is a crime that will kill our children
So, how is ecocide a crime that will kill our children? It’s not just the pollution of water, land, and air. Ecocide also includes the poisoning of food, plants, and animals. This is done through pesticides on crops, fossil fuel extraction, and toxic chemicals from manufacturing processes to name a few.
The global COVID 19 pandemic is one of the by-products of climate degradation brought about by ecocide. As a result of the way we currently live our lives, our environment threatens to become less capable of sustaining life and children born today can expect to experience a myriad of health issues in the future.
Ecocide – Our gift to future generations
Studies suggest that children born after 2015 are much more likely to experience health-related issues such as respiratory diseases, cardiac malfunctions, and blood poisoning. Not only the number of diseases will likely increase but also the intensity of the symptoms, leading to more painful deaths at a younger age.
Our current relationship with nature is not sustainable and it is going to take a lot more than changing our lightbulbs to save the planet. We need to think about the future and the generations that will come after us. We need to start caring for our environment before it is too late.
Ecocide as an international crime
The world’s top ecologists have come together to create a “historic” definition of the term, intended for use by international criminal courts. This allows for the prosecution of environmental law violations in order to put an end to significant harm caused on either an ecological scale (ecocide) or on cultural/social levels.
Ecocide as an international crime
The international community is pushing the ICC to incorporate ecocide as a fifth core crime falling within its jurisdiction. So far, the ICC only has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. The Court is fairly new, having started its activities in July 2002 as a successor to the international tribunals which dealt with the aftermath of World War II, the Rwandan genocide, and the war crimes that took place in the context of the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s.
The proposal put before the International Criminal Court’s members will make it possible for them (the member states) to not only recognize, but to also criminalize serious environmental damage caused intentionally or through negligence.
Wanton acts committed by political leaders and corporations
The recently unveiled draft law defines ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread environmental damage caused by those actions”.
Professor Philippe Sands QC of University College London, who co-chaired the panel that spent six months coining this recent definition, said: “The four other crimes all focus exclusively on the well-being of human beings. This one of course does that but it introduces a new non-anthropocentric approach, namely putting the environment at the heart of international law, and so that is original and innovative.”
The ICC has been heavily criticized for not investigating major environmental crimes. In 2016, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC published the Policy Paper on Case Selection and Prioritisation, where it stated that one of the four core crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court will be given priority if they are committed through land grabs, exploitation of natural resources, or destruction of the environment.
How can we help stop ecocide from happening?
The first step to stopping ecocide is to include it as a legal definition of a crime that can be prosecuted. This is a task that started several decades ago and is still going on.
How can we help stop ecocide from happening?
The second step is to change our way of thinking. We must learn that environmental resources are not inexhaustive, that our livelihood is dependent on a healthy environment, and that we do not have dominion over nature.
Thirdly, it is time for us to act together if we are to put a stop to ecocide. The more public support and action we can muster for environmentally friendly policies, the more likely our collective efforts will lead us towards a better future.
And finally, education is key! Awareness about ecocide and the creative exploration of alternatives must replace traditional methods that continue to rely on ecological degradation.
What is being done about ecocide?
Stop Ecocide International is taking the lead in including ecocide as the fifth crime under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. On December 7th, 2021, a side event “Ecocide: a fifth crime defined” at the Assembly for State Parties of the International Criminal Court addressed the issue.
The motion to include ecocide as part of the jurisdiction of the ICC was led by the Republic of Vanuatu, the Independent State of Samoa, Stop Ecocide International and the Co-Chairs of the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide in association with the Institute for Environmental Security and The Hague Peace Projects.
What is being done about ecocide?
The work on ecocide does not end here. Environmental destruction continues to be one of the most pressing matters for humanity at this moment, and unlawful or wanton acts of environmental harm or destruction need to be addressed by international lawyers with the ability to prosecute under the Rome statute. Environmental damage is a war crime under the legal framework of the ICC (see article 8(2)(b)(iv)). However, there were no cases brought before the Court under this article. Many scholars have argued that environmental crimes could fall under the category of crimes against humanity due to the disastrous effects it can have on individuals, groups, and entire nations.
The proposed law would include the human environment as a component of environmental protection. Recognizing the crime of ecocide to such an extent is a necessary step for both the international community and civil society.
Events such as oil spills, which are not contemplated in existing laws, can destroy entire ecosystems and hinder the social and economic benefits we would normally obtain from a healthy environment. Severe damage to our ecosystem is not just about our enjoyment of natural resources, it is about the impact it has on our collective well-being.
Ecocide: The fifth international crime against peace
We are in the midst of an ecological crisis. Species are disappearing at rates far surpassing any natural rate of extinction. The cause? Humans! We have put ourselves on top of the food chain and we are consuming things to death. This is happening all over the world with a global impact that will be felt for centuries if not millennia to come.
Ecocide: a crime against peace
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a series of reports warning about the damage that is being done to our planet. The Earth’s systems are so interconnected that the impact of small changes can be far-reaching. Failure to take immediate steps to address climate change can allow things to spiral out of control and lead to more pandemics, droughts, famine, displacement, and loss of human lives on an unprecedented scale.
But the IPCC doesn’t just warn about the dangers of climate change, they also identify ecocide as one of the gravest threats facing humanity. When ecosystems collapse, it isn’t just species that go extinct – it is also the cultures that rely on them.
The rights of nature are recognized in Ecuador’s Constitution, which states that humans have a right to live safely and ecologically. This means that people and their environment should be protected from pollution or misuse by others.
Ecuador is not alone in this effort. In 2015, Bolivia introduced a resolution at the United Nations calling for an international treaty that criminalized ecocide. If passed, this would give countries the power to prosecute those who commit ecocide.
Vanuatu and its mission to include ecocide in the ICC
In 2010, the small Pacific island nation of Vanuatu submitted a proposal to include ecocide as a fifth crime against peace in the International Criminal Court. The proposal was unsuccessful, but Vanuatu has not given up the fight.
The mission to include ecocide in the ICC
For Vanuatu and other island nations that are suffering due to the climate crisis, leading this effort is a priority in their agenda. Ironically, for those more “advanced economies”, stopping climate destruction is still not a priority.
In the words of Tony de Brum, former Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands and one of the key architects of the Paris Agreement: “It is clear to us that those who have done the damage must also do what is necessary to repair it. The law must be changed so that those responsible for climate change can be held criminally liable for their actions.”
Ecocide is not only an environmental issue, but a human rights issue as well. It is time we start treating it as such and stand up for our planet and future generations by demanding justice for ecocide.
Ecocide and the International Criminal Court
The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal situated in The Hague, The Netherlands. It was established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for the most serious crimes of international concern: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
Ecocide is the destruction of ecosystems, natural habitats, and species. It can be caused by pollution, mining, deforestation, and other destructive activities. The damage inflicted by ecocide can be long-lasting and irreversible.
Ecocide and the ICC
The ICC still does not have the power to prosecute individuals for ecocide. This could change in the future as awareness of the seriousness of this crime steadily grows.
There are many activities that can result in ecocide. Some of the most common are:
- Polluting water sources with toxins
- Dumping toxic waste into rivers and oceans
- Cutting down rainforests for timber or to clear land for farming or development
- Drilling for oil and gas in environmentally sensitive areas, such as coral reefs and coastal wetlands
- Using harmful pesticides and fertilizers that contaminate soil and water supplies
- Exporting trash to developing countries without adequate safeguards against environmental damage
The work of Stop Ecocide International
The core work of Stop Ecocide International is activating and developing global cross-sector support for the international crime of ecocide.
With years of collective experience they collaborate with diplomats, politicians, lawyers, corporate leaders, NGOs, indigenous and faith groups, influencers, academic experts, grassroots campaigns, individuals, and a wide network of allied groups to achieve their mission.
They advocate for amending the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as it is the only global mechanism that directly accesses the existing criminal justice systems of its 123 member states.
Member states which ratify the crime must include it in their own domestic law, creating a uniform rule across jurisdictions. In this way, Earth’s most precious ecosystems can be protected and allowed to recover.
How can you help ecocide to be recognized?
You can help the work of Stop Ecocide International by signing their petition. Signing this petition will help ecocide to be recognized within the jurisdiction of the ICC. It calls on all governments to declare their support for making ecocide an international crime, in the knowledge that many countries must stand together in order to put this law in place for the long-term protection of all life on Earth.
Why does this matter?
Because the mass damage and destruction of ecosystems (ECOCIDE) committed repeatedly over decades and permitted by law, has led to global climate and ecological crisis. Treaties, agreements, and civil lawsuits have all failed to prevent this.
It is time to change the rules
Amending the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to include ECOCIDE as a CRIME – alongside the others – can provide a simple and effective deterrent for those in positions of responsibility, enforceable within existing criminal justice systems.
Why your support is crucial
As this petition grows, it will be used to demonstrate to governments the level of civil support that is building both internationally and within their own borders.
The petition will therefore remain open for signatures, gathering momentum as more and more governments declare their support.
The more signatures we have, the more pressure we create and the sooner ecocide will become an international crime.
Why your support is crucial
Getting ecocide to be recognized is not simple and much work is still needed to achieve a world where nature and its ecosystems are protected, and our relationships with them are sustainable.
But change is happening and people from all corners of the world are uniting against environmental destruction, discrimination, violence, and oppression. Every day more and more people join this call.
The changes we seek stem from grassroot movements and initiatives in our societies that struggle against the status quo to show that another world is possible.
It is thanks to the tireless efforts of these dedicated individuals that critical human rights and environmental changes are able to steadily make their way on to the agendas of those in positions of responsibility.
These individuals are the Changemakers of our societies who take on the world’s largest problems with the least number of resources. However, without a genuine commitment from society to support their efforts, the problems that we all care about will never be solved.
There is a petition asking the European Union leadership to take action on this matter right now. If it gets enough signatures it could be a game-changer. By signing this petition, you are uniting your voice with a call for greater support for society’s Changemakers that fight for human rights and the environment. We ask you to make your voice be heard and to support those who are leading the fight for change.
Show your support for society’s Changemakers by signing this petition by The Hague Peace Projects.
Show your support for the recognition of ecocide by signing this petition by Stop Ecocide International.
Together we can bring about change!
Written by Chale Guadamuz