Protecting the planet: a proposal for a law of ecocide

Abstract

A wide range of actions imperil the planet and threaten the future of humanity and other species. This essay notes some examples of crimes and harms damaging to the environment and human and non-human species as well as various forms of response that have called for more effective and appropriate models of justice and law than currently prevail. This leads to a discussion of several suggestions regarding the development and expression of an earth jurisprudence and to the history of a proposal that “ecocide” be recognised internationally as a crime. Analysis of documentary sources traces this idea from debates about the concept of genocide to consideration by United Nations officials as to how crimes against the environment might be defined, and shows how near such a proposal has previously come to acceptance and enactment. The article concludes with an argument for supporting a law of ecocide as the 5th Crime against Peace.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although the terms pillage, plunder, spoliation and looting are all commonly used in legal discussion with more or less the same meaning, pillage is the only one that features in treaties governing the laws of war [44, p.15].

  2. 2.

    The authors are grateful to Rob White for this and several other points.

  3. 3.

    In Gauger et al. [22] citing The New York Times, 26 February 1970 as quoted in Weisberg [48].

  4. 4.

    U.N. Commission on Human Rights, 1994, Rapporteur Ksentini, Sub-commission Report.

  5. 5.

    [29, p.79 – 95]. For further discussion, see Moses [31].

  6. 6.

    In fact one out of five acts of cultural genocide did remain in the Convention, this is “(a) forcible transfer of children to another human group”; the excluded other categories being: “(b) forced and systematic exile of individuals representing the culture of a group; (c) prohibition of the use of the national language even in private intercourse; (d) systematic destruction of books printed in the national language or of religious works or prohibition of new publications; (e) systematic destruction of historical or religious monuments or their diversion to alien uses, destruction or dispersion of documents and objects of historical, artistic, or religious value and of objects used in religious worship.” [http://www.preventgenocide.org/law/ convention/drafts/]. Cases of the forcible removal of indigenous children – the ‘stolen generations’ – in Australia and Canada have produced enormous controversy and invoked the notion of cultural genocide but none has produced a prosecution let alone conviction at the international level.

  7. 7.

    Sub-Commission on The Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. Study of the Question of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Prepared by Mr. Nicodème Ruhashyankiko. 4 July 1978. E/CN.4/Sub.2/416.

  8. 8.

    E/CN.4/Sub.2/SR.658, p. 53.

  9. 9.

    General Assembly resolution 177 (II) of 21 November 1947.

  10. 10.

    The Special Rapporteur refers to the following international instruments: the Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil Thereof; the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere in Outer Space and Under Water; the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies; and the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or any other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques; see A/CN.4/377 and Corr.1, para. 44 and 51, p.94-96.

  11. 11.

    A/CN.4/377 and Corr.1, para. 46, p.95.

  12. 12.

    One provision of Art.22 on war crimes covers damage caused to the environment in times of war. “Article 22. Exceptionally serious war crimes: 2. For the purposes of this Code, an exceptionally serious war crime is an exceptionally serious violation of principles and rules of international law applicable in armed conflict consisting of any of the following acts: […] (d) employing methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment; […]”. See: Yearbook of the ILC 1995, Vol.II, Pt.2, p.97.

  13. 13.

    A/CN.4/448 and Add.1, contained in Yearbook of the ILC 1993, Vol.II, Pt.1, p.66, para.50 (Australia), and p.68, para.30 (Austria)

  14. 14.

    A/CN.4/448 and Add.1, contained in Yearbook of the ILC 1995, Vol.I, 2386th m., pp. 52; and 2387th m., p. 52–53

  15. 15.

    Working group was established at the 2404th meeting. See: Vol.I and Vol. II, Pt.2 of the Yearbook of the ILC, 1995.

  16. 16.

    Yearbook of the ILC, 1996, Vol. I, 2428th meeting, p.5, para.5.

  17. 17.

    ILC(XLVIII)/DC/CRD.3 (included in Yearbook of the ILC, 1996, Vol. II, Pt. 1).

  18. 18.

    Yearbook of the ILC, 1996, Vol. I, 2431th meeting, Tuesday, 21 May 1996.

  19. 19.

    Ibid. Including environmental damage in the context of war crimes: 12 votes in favour to 1, 4 abstentions; in the context of crimes against humanity: 9 votes to 9, 2 abstentions.

  20. 20.

    Article 8. War crimes:

    2. For the purpose of this Statute, “war crimes” means:

    (a) Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts against persons or property protected under the provisions of the relevant Geneva Convention: […]

    (b) Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts: […] (iv) Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause […] widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated; […]

  21. 21.

    A/CN.4/466, included in the Yearbook of the ILC 1995, Vol.II, Pt.1, p.35

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Higgins, P., Short, D. & South, N. Protecting the planet: a proposal for a law of ecocide. Crime Law Soc Change 59, 251–266 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-013-9413-6

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Keywords

  • Restorative Justice
  • Rome Statute
  • Strict Liability
  • Environmental Crime
  • Special Rapporteur