Human Rights & Public Liberties

Human Rights & Public Liberties

Published on: 13 Jan, 2021

Protecting the planet: legal experts reveal definition of ‘ecocide’

Published on: 23 June, 2021


The Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide [Stop Ecocide Foundation]

The Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide [Stop Ecocide Foundation]

On Tuesday an expert drafting panel of 12 senior international lawyers presented the result of their work on the definition of ecocide.

The Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide, chaired by barrister and author Philippe Sands QC was commissioned by the Stop Ecocide Foundation. The Foundation believes severe and reckless damage to ecosystems should be made illegal.

The project first emerged in response to a request from parliamentarians in Sweden. The late Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme, already  promoted the concept at the 1972 UN environmental conference in Stockholm.

The definition in the draft law reads: “‘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.”

The proposed definition will now be made available for states to consider.

Rome Statute

The panel aims to have the crime of ecocide included as one of the core international crimes in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC currently has jurisdiction over the crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Jojo Mehta, executive director and co-founder of the Stop Ecocide Foundation said: ‘The Rome Statute has been amended before. It can happen again.’

Mehta believes public interest and support for this project will steadily increase. She said: ‘The corporate sector will need time to adjust. Full clarity on the implications of such an approaching law will be fundamentally important.’

Mehta further said: ‘Criminalising ecocide will signal a change the ground rules by which the global economy operates and channel finance away from projects that destroy ecosystems.’

Mehta foresees that it could take four to five years to get the requisite consensus of states to include the crime of ecocide in the Statute.

So far eight countries, including Belgium, Finland, Spain and the island nations of Vanuatu and the Maldives, have supported the proposal.

This is not the first time the ICC will be presented with the idea of criminalising ecocide. Several small island nations, including Vanuatu and the Maldives, called  for ‘serious consideration’ of a crime of ecocide at the ICC’s annual assembly of states parties in 2019.

Philippe Sands said: ‘It has been a privilege to contribute to this work, inspired by the efforts of Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin in giving the world ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’, back in 1945.’

The work of the panel is dedicated to the memories of British lawyer Polly Higgins and Australian judge on the International Court of Justice, James Crawford.