Situating ecocide in jurisprudence

Anna Triponel

June 28, 2021
Our key takeaway: Ecocide could join genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression as crimes over which the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction.The Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide, coordinated by the Stop Ecocide Foundation, has just released its proposed definition of mass environmental destruction – otherwise known as ecocide:
  • Rationale for inclusion of ecocide. The panel states that a new preambular paragraph should be added in the Rome Statute stating a concern “that the environment is daily threatened by severe destruction and deterioration, gravely endangering natural and human systems worldwide.” The legal experts remind us that the origin of ecocide is the combination of the Greek ‘oikos’ (house/home – later understood to mean habitat/ environment), with ‘cide’ (to kill). The proposed definition’s reference to ‘any element of the environment’ is intended “to make it clear that it is enough to affect any element encompassed by the definition of the environment, that is, ‘the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, as well as outer space’”.
  • Clear definition of ecocide proposed. The legal experts suggest revising the Rome Statute, that defines the crimes over which the court has jurisdiction. The proposed definition is as follows: “‘ecocide’ means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts. ‘Wanton’ means with reckless disregard for damage which would be clearly excessive in relation to the social and economic benefits anticipated. ‘Severe’ means damage which involves very serious adverse changes, disruption or harm to any element of the environment, including grave impacts on human life or natural, cultural or economic resources. ‘Widespread’ means damage which extends beyond a limited geographic area, crosses state boundaries, or is suffered by an entire ecosystem or species or a large number of human beings. ‘Long-term’ means damage which is irreversible or which cannot be redressed through natural recovery within a reasonable period of time. ‘Environment’ means the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, as well as outer space.”
  • In the words of the cochairs. Prof Philippe Sands QC states: “The four other crimes all focus exclusively on the wellbeing 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. … [I]t’s part of that broader process of changing public consciousness, recognising that we are in a relationship with our environment, we are dependent for our wellbeing on the wellbeing of the environment and that we have to use various instruments, political, diplomatic but also legal to achieve the protection of the environment.” Dior Fall Sow states: “The environment is threatened worldwide by the very serious and persistent damage caused to it, which endangers the lives of the people who live in it. This definition helps to emphasise that the security of our planet must be guaranteed on an international scale [which would benefit in particular] island developing states that are subject to ecological ecocides committed by corporations.”

For more, see Stop Ecocide Foundation, Independent Expert Panel for the
Legal Definition of Ecocide: Commentary and Core Text (June 2021)

You may also be interested in

This week’s latest resources, articles and summaries.