The plea for criminalizing ecocide


One of the main benefits of criminalizing ecocide is that it would provide a means of redress for the peoples of the Global South who are most affected by it, says Sue Miller, head of Global Networks for the Stop Ecocide campaign. Photo courtesy of StopEcocide.
  • by Paul Virgo (Rome)
  • Inter Press Service

So ecocide, which literally means “killing someone’s house”, can be happening all the time in much of the world right now and no one is being held accountable.

Deforestation, oil spills, air pollution – the companies responsible for this kind of serious environmental damage can sometimes be sued and sometimes fined, but they can simply spend money on this. No one gets arrested, so there’s no real discouragement.

A growing global network of lawyers, diplomats and activists is campaigning to rectify this and allow ecocide to join this exclusive club of ‘crimes against peace’ that the International Criminal Court can punish and bring perpetrators to justice.

“We call ecocide the missing crime,” said Sue Miller, head of Global Networks for the Stop Ecocide campaign.

“Right now, companies are causing serious environmental damage in the pursuit of profit. Usually they get away with it.

“If they are held accountable, they may end up paying a fine, civil damages or even a bribe to make the problem go away.

“Whatever the penalty is, it is monetary and may appear on the company’s balance sheet as a business expense.”

One of the main benefits of criminalizing ecocide is that it would provide a means of redress for the peoples of the South who are the main victims of it.

At the moment, it is mainly companies in the Global North that are causing environmental damage in the Global South, where the rule of law is often not as strong,” said Miller.

“An international ecocide law will not only strengthen national laws, but will also provide a court of last resort for those who are victims of ecocide and cannot get justice in their own country.”

But above all, it would also create a deterrent to destroying the environment that currently does not exist.

Miller believes this would be a game-changer when it comes to business practices.

“A new crime of ecocide would place personal criminal liability on key decision-makers – the controlling minds – in most cases the corporate directors,” she said.

“As such, an ecocide law will reach the boardrooms where the decisions are made and act as a brake on the projects that cause the worst environmental damage.

“Facing prosecution and possible jail time, business leaders are likely to be much more careful about the projects they approve.

“Financing and insurance for potentially ecocidal projects will dry up and funds, effort and talent will be diverted to healthier, more sustainable practices.

“While it ensures that justice can be pursued when damage has been done, an ecocide law has the power to stop the damage in the first place.”

Rather than being hostile to the law, Miller argues that many CEOs actually want legislation that prohibits them from making a profit at the expense of the natural world.

“There is no business on a dead planet and many companies are coming to that realization now,” she said.

“They also realize that there are benefits to working with, rather than against, nature.

“These include: unlocking innovation; stimulating investment in new, regenerative business models; leveling the playing field for sustainable business; stabilizing operational and reputational risk; and provide guidance towards more sustainable business”.

These are some of the reasons that give Miller confidence that the push to criminalize ecocide will ultimately succeed, despite the power of lobbies opposed to it.

The campaign has received the support of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Pope Francis, Greta Thunberg and Paul McCartney, among others.

In June 2021, an independent panel of experts presented its formal definition of the proposed crime of ecocide as “unlawful or willful acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of serious and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment from those acts. ”.

When talks were underway to establish the International Criminal Court in the late 1990s and early 2000s, ecocide was one of the crimes to be included alongside genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – aggression, the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, integrity or independence of another state did not fall under its jurisdiction until 2018.

In the end, ecocide was dropped for unclear reasons during a meeting held behind closed doors.

Today’s world would probably be a better place if he had been in it from the start.

“Had it been in effect, so many events since then would not only have been penalized, but might not have happened at all,” Miller said.

“Had the ecocide law been in place, for example, it is unlikely that (former Brazilian president) Jair Bolsonaro would have been so eager to encourage the destruction of the Amazon in Brazil.

“Companies are unlikely to start looking for deep-sea mining sites now.

“So much of the damage we’re seeing now could have been prevented.”

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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