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International Group Proposes Legislation to Criminalize Ecocide

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In an effort led largely by small island nations, 13 international lawyers are drafting a plan to make ecosystem destruction a criminal offence of the highest degree.

The aim of the effort, reports [1] The Guardian, is “to draw up a legal definition of ‘ecocide’ that would complement other existing international offences, such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.”

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The project was “convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation at the request of Swedish parliamentarians, has been launched this month to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Nuremberg war crimes trials of Nazi leaders in 1945,” the paper adds. It’s being coordinated by lawyer Philippe Sands of University College London and Florence Mumba, a former judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The project has strong support from small island nations [3] like the Maldives and Vanuatu, which last year called upon the ICC to make criminalizing ecosystem destruction a matter of “serious consideration.”

Both France and Belgium have also pledged support.

The bid to make ecocide a criminal category comes four years after the ICC vowed to begin prosecuting peacetime crimes relating to the destruction or exploitation of the environment or to “illegal dispossession” of land.

In the policy paper explaining its broadening focus, the ICC clarified that “it was not formally extending its jurisdiction but would assess existing offences, such as crimes against humanity, in a broader context.”

So far, no formal investigations or charges have gone forward under the new classification, writes The Guardian.

“In most cases ecocide is likely to be a corporate crime,” said Jojo Mehta, chair of the Stop Ecocide Foundation. “Criminalizing something at the ICC means that nations that have ratified it have to incorporate it into their own national legislation.”

In that case, “there would be lots of options for prosecuting [offending corporations] around the world,” she added.

But before that point can be reached, there is still the challenge of defining the crime of ecocide—it could not, for example, take in the loss of single tree in a community park.

“It would have to involve mass, systematic, or widespread destruction,” said Mehta. “We are probably talking about Amazon deforestation on a huge scale [4], deep sea bottom trawling, or oil spills.”

The United States, China, and India have not yet ratified the ICC.