Published 29th October 2010 - 14 comments - 1417 views -
When hundreds of living species become extinct every day, massive rainforests are destroyed, and two million tons of toxic waste are dumped into our seas and rivers daily – how do we call it? Bad luck? Unfortunate? Shame? Well, how about calling it a crime? But not a crime of stealing potatoes when hungry – no, this is a crime against peace.
…Only not yet. The campaign to have ecocide internationally recognized as a crime against peace was started by one Polly Higgins back in April. “It’s about being courageous and standing up for what you believe in even when other people denounce you,” this lawyer-turned-activist said to the New Internationalist in an interview recently.
The term “ecocide” has been around since the 1960s. It entered dictionaries defined, variously, as “Destruction of the natural environment” (“especially when willfully done”). But now it needs to move on – to become a law in the eyes of the International Criminal Court.
Higgins’s proposed legal definition: “Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage to 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 severely diminished.”
This is an important point – by “inhabitants”, Higgins means not only homo sapiens and nonsapiens – she means any living species. Time to re-think our self-proclaimed superiority over… well, anything, really – the Earth is not for granted and we are not alone on it, not yet.
Living in our own mess.
The International Criminal Court prosecutes individuals for four Crimes Against Peace, namely: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression – the worst of the worst, on a massive scale.
So what’s peace got to do with what we’re doing to the planet? The link is clear: “Damage, destruction or loss of ecosystems leads to resource depletion, which in turn leads to conflict and ultimately war.” After all, ours is predicted to be the century of wars over resources.
OK, so what’s the deal? Ecocide is caused by human activity and thus is preventative, just like any other crime. The ecocide law will create responsibilities at national and international levels. It will not only send out the message to all the bandits out there, Higgins insists, but will also help prevent crimes against the Earth being committed.
How? Easy: individuals could be prosecuted under this law (e.g. CEOs and other corporate bosses) – imagine how that’d make a difference! So “governments, corporations, organizations, and any person who has rights over a territory will be legally obliged to ensure their actions do not damage ecosystems or lead to their losses.” Basically, the law will oblige us to behave – that’s just what they do.
Destruction of ecosystems is closely related to climate change. So should deniers shiver in fear? No: the law is premised on fact, not opinion. Campaigners insist the law is neither anti-corporate nor anti-profit – it is about corporate responsibility (a rare breed indeed).
But do we really need more laws? Aren’t there enough in place already? And how do we make sure that laws are obeyed anyway? We can’t, really. But the current environmental legislation is mainly fines which are paid or not and then forgotten. Sometimes the fear of punishment alone is what stops a would-be criminal and makes them rethink their strategy – and might lead to alternative ways of doing things.
January 2011 is the deadline to prepare the proposed text, with voting scheduled for 2012. The proposal will need a two-thirds majority of the 197 UN member states if it is to become law.
Photo credit: ninahale via flickr on Creative Commons licence.
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