‘Ecocide’ should be made an international crime alongside war crimes and genocide, top lawyers say

A panel of 12 international criminal and environmental lawyers from around the world have revealed their legal definition of ‘ecocide’, hoping it will be adopted as an international crime.

Top international lawyers have proposed that ‘ecocide’ be made an international crime to sit alongside war crimes and genocide.

Commissioned by environmental pressure group Stop Ecocide, a panel of 12 international lawyers have today (June 22) unveiled a legal definition of ‘ecocide’ following six months of deliberations.

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“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,” reads the definition proposed by the panel.

It's hoped that categorising ecocide as an international crime would allow people to be held to account for severe environmental damage such as oil spills.

The lawyers hope that the legal definition will be now considered for addition as the fifth crime in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Rome Statute is the treaty which established the ICC in 1998 and determined four international crimes deemed of global interest and relevance which can be investigated by the court.

The current four crimes are genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

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“The time has come to extend the protections [of the Statute] to serious environmental harm, already recognised to be a matter of international concern,” said the panel, which included executive director of the UK Climate Counsel Richard J Rogers, UN jurist Dior Fall Sow and barrister Philippe Sands QC.

Some states and individuals have already shown support for the law, the panel said, with Belgium the first nation to have raised criminalising ecocide at the ICC.

Figures such as the Pope, Greta Thunberg and Dr Jane Goodall have all endorsed the introduction of such a law.

Currently, there is no legal framework for dealing with the crime of ecocide at an international level.

The panel said this lack of framework means there is “no system to hold corporate and government decision-makers accountable for environmental damages and abuses such as oil spills, mass deforestation, ocean damage or severe pollution of waters.”

“Enshrining ecocide in international law would enable perpetrators to be put on trial at the International Criminal Court or in any ratifying jurisdiction,” they said.

Jojo Mehta, Chair of the Stop Ecocide Foundation and convenor of the panel, said:

“This is an historic moment. This expert panel came together in direct response to a growing political appetite for real answers to the climate and ecological crisis.

“The moment is right - the world is waking up to the danger we are facing if we continue along our current trajectory.”