WHAT IS ECOCIDE?
Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.
In 2010, the proposal to amend the Rome Statute to include an international crime of Ecocide was submitted by Polly Higgins into the International Law Commission (ILC). The ILC is the UN body ‘mandated to promote the progressive development of international law and its codification’. The submission was published as Chapters 5 and 6 in her first book, Eradicating Ecocide.
The purpose for creating the offence of Ecocide as the 5th international Crime Against Peace is to put in place an international law at the very top level. 122 nations (as of 2015) are State Parties to the Rome Statute. International Crime (which is codified in the Rome Statute) applies not only to the signatory States. If and when a person commits a Crime Against Peace, the International Criminal Court has powers to intervene in certain circumstances, even if the person or State involved is a nonsignatory.
The Rome Statute is one of the most powerful documents in the world, assigning ‘the most serious crimes of concern 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 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
The inclusion of Ecocide law as 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. Where Ecocide occurs as a crime, remedy can be sought through national courts and the International Criminal Court (ICC) or a similar body.
Ecocide law has ‘legal teeth.’ Whilst we have many international agreements – voluntary codes of conduct, UN Resolutions, Treaties, Conventions, Protocols etc – the harm escalates. Not one of these international agreements prohibits Ecocide. The power of the Law of Ecocide is that it creates a legal duty of care that holds persons of ‘superior responsibility’ to account in a court of law (both criminal and civil).
POLLY HIGGINS – THE EARTH`S LAWYER
Polly Higgins is an international lawyer, UK based barrister and award-winning author. She is also often referred to as ‘The Earth’s Lawyer’. Founder of the Earth Law Alliance and The Earth Community Trust, she has garnered a number of awards for her work advocating for a law of Ecocide. She received an Honoris Causa Doctorate from Business School Lausanne 2013; in the same year she became the Honorary Arne Naess Professor at Oslo University. Her first book,Eradicating Ecocide, won the Peoples Book Prize in 2011 (updated 2nd edition, September 2015). In November 2015 VPRO (Dutch BBC) featured a documentary about her work, called Advocate for the Earth. She is ranked as No.35 in Salt magazine’s 2016 Top 100 Inspiring Women of the world list.
A number of lawyers now operate pro-bono as part of the Ecocide law response team who advise and assist States that lack the financial backing of western nations. Polly and her team advise and provide briefing sessions to climate vulnerable states on climate crime. Based in the UK, the Hague and New York, the Ecocide law response team operate behind the scenes, as independent advisors. They are not paid by States, nor by organisations, with a set agenda. Each lawyer offers their time freely to advise without vested interest.
Ecocide Law sits at the heart of an emerging body of law called Earth Law.
Earth law puts people and planet first, and ensures the well-being of the whole Earth community. Earth Law recognises that the Earth has natural limits and boundaries, and it is for us to ensure the well-being of the whole Earth Community by putting in place laws that protect future generations.
Earth law is an expansion of our collective responsibilities and duties. Earth law encompasses governance of indigenous rights, Earth rights, rights of nature, rights of future generations and rights of the displaced. Often, Earth law is simply balancing the scales of justice by building on existing laws and universal principles based on trusteeship. Read more on Earth Law
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