In 2015, our planet witnessed one of the worst environmental crimes in history, the burning and incineration of the Indonesian rainforest perpetrated allegedly by palm oil companies. It led to the desecration of millions of acres of pristine tropical forest, over 500,000 people (including children) becoming hospitalised with respiratory problems, the premature deaths of over 100,000 people and the incineration of hundreds of critically endangered orangutans. [1] It was perhaps an Ecocide, or a genocide of an entire ecosystem:

Today, the criminal destruction against our planet continues, and although companies and individuals can be held responsible for a variety of environmental harms, many incidents do not result in compensation or prosecution and few individuals are ever threatened with criminal sanctions or sentences. The Law of Ecocide seeks to change this and make Ecocide illegal internationally.

Polly Higgins, an environmentalist barrister, states “Ecocide is the extent of damage, destruction to a loss of ecosystems. The word itself goes back to the 1970’s, what I have done is give it a legal definition. There are two types of ecocide, one is human caused ecocide and the other is naturally occurring ecocide. The importance here is by creating a international law of ecocide, on one hand we are criminalising mass damage and destruction and on the other we are also creating a legal duty of care to give assistance to ensure no significant harm occurs for future generation.”[2]

In order to make Ecocide an international crime, a proposal was submitted by Polly Higgins in 2010 to the International Law Commission.  The proposal sought to amend the Rome Statue (which formed the International Criminal Court in 1998) and include Ecocide as the 5th International Crime Against Peace. The Rome Statue is one of the most powerful documents in the whole world “assigning the most serous crimes to the international community as a whole” over and above all other laws. Crimes that already exist within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court under Article 5 of the Rome Statute are known collectively as a Crime Against Peace. They are:

“Article 5(1) The jurisdiction of the Court shall be limited to the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. The Court has jurisdiction in accordance with this Statute with respect to the following crimes:
1. The Crime of Genocide
2. Crimes Against Humanity
3. War Crimes
4. The Crime of Aggression

To be added:
5. The Crime of Ecocide.” [3]

The inclusion of Ecocide as an “international law prohibits mass damage and destruction of the Earth and, as defined above, creates a legal duty of care for all inhabitants that have been or are at risk of being significantly harmed due to Ecocide. The duty of care applies to prevent, prohibit and pre-empt both human-caused Ecocide and natural catastrophes. In the event of an ecological catastrophe (e.g. rising sea levels – naturally occurring ecocide, mass deforestation – human caused ecocide) or a cultural devastation (loss of a community’s way of life – cultural ecocide), not only do the state parties have a duty to prosecute but also a duty to give assistance. Where a state is either unwilling or unable to do so, individuals can seek remedy through the International Criminal Court (ICC) or a similar body.” [4]

Polly Higgins explains the concept of Ecocide more here:

Making Ecocide an international crime would be hugely important for the protection of vital ecosystems and indigenous people around the world. It would send a strong message to those who continue to put profit first, commit atrocious human rights violations and fail to even look at the consequences (never-mind address the consequences) of their actions. In a world where our current economic system is predicated on short term thinking and greed, the Law of Ecocide will look to flip this, so in the future a decision to destroy an ecosystem for profit will become an exception rather than the normative we see today.

As we continue to lose vast amounts of our home, the urgency to implement this law has never been greater. All we need now is the political will and determination. It could be said, that one day, not far from now, the Earth may finally have access to justice.

An article by Harry Wright




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[5] Ibid

Cover Photo: