The recognition by the International Criminal Court of severe, widespread or long-term environmental damage as a criminal offense is gaining more sympathy. But so far it hasn’t gone any further.
Last Wednesday, the Congress of Deputies approved, at the request of United We Can, a motion asking the government to “examine impulsive policies (…) to include the recognition of ecocide as an international crime.” A little over a year ago, a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs already approved a very similar proposal: to include ecocide in the Rome Statute, which guides the Criminal Court.
Just a couple of weeks ago, on April 28, Navarre’s provincial parliament voted to call on the executive branch to move forward with this measure, in addition to “assessing reforms consistent with this goal in our domestic legislation.” The Catalan Parliament is awaiting discussion of the CUP proposal.
In the heat of the piling up of petitions, Stop Ecocide campaign coordinator in Spain, Maite Mompo, assures that “the question is not whether this will become a crime of the International Criminal Court, but when it will occur.” His idea is that at the end of this year, a group of states will put forward a proposal to the UN. The governments of Vanuatu, the Maldives and Belgium are currently in favor of this work.
“There are a lot of steps being taken in the Spanish state: both petitions for this to become an international crime, and for it to be included in the Criminal Code, and the more people talk about ecocide, the better,” says Mompo optimistically.
Galston, Palme and Agent Orange
The truth is that ecocide concepts have been around for more than five decades. The American plant physiologist Arthur W. Galston referred to the term ecocide in 1970 during the War and National Responsibility Conference in Washington that year.
Galston was the discoverer in 1943 of the chemical compound that 20 years later led to Agent Orange, widely used as a chemical weapon during the Vietnam War. In fact, the scientist was looking for fertilizer. In 1972, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme called the Vietnam War an “ecocide” at the Stockholm Environment Conference.
Ecocide occurred during the discussion and preparation of the “Code of Crimes against Peace and Human Security”, which culminated in the Rome Statute, which guides the International Criminal Court. The statute, approved in 1998 and entered into force in 2002, provides for four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression. Ecocide, although discussed in the UN organizations that created this international code, was then excluded.
An investigation by the University of London’s School of Advanced Study reports that “the disappearance of the figure of crimes for grievous environmental damage suddenly disappeared from the drafts.” Their findings showed that lobbying pressure from the oil industry helped eliminate ecocide. What remained was a reference to environmental damage “during the war”.
In June 2021, an international group of lawyers developed a possible formula to add to the international code: “Any illegal or arbitrary act done in the knowledge of a high probability that it will cause serious, widespread or long-term damage to the environment.”
“It’s about adapting the concept of ecocide to peaceful times,” explains Rodrigo Lledo, one of the lawyers involved in developing the project. “In times of war, it’s easy to foresee that there might be a soldier determined to level the jungle, but in times of peace, it’s harder to imagine a villain intent on destroying an ecosystem. The damage is mainly due to corporate ambition, which does not apply reasonable and preventive measures in the conduct of its activities.”
enough with danger
For this reason, the wording of the crime of danger is formulated: from the creation of danger, that is, if appropriate preventive measures are not taken, it is considered that the crime has been committed, one should not wait. disaster will happen.
“Of course, we have to take into account the freedom of action for companies, but we had to define the threshold from which we speak of ecocide. We have made a definition that could work both in the International Criminal Court and within countries. Something balanced,” concludes this Juris Doctor.
A “critical mass of states,” as Lledo puts it, is expected to submit a proposal to the conference governing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. From there, it must be decided whether a specific forum will be convened to study this association or whether it can be done directly.
Ana Barreira, President of the International Institute of Law and the Environment, reflects that “it would be positive to classify the crime of ecocide, the crime that punishes risk, as a deterrent, but at the same time I would like to emphasize that we already have a lot of laws but there are few resources to make them effective and this is a priority.”
However, the statute of the International Criminal Court does not count for the United States, since, although they signed it in 2000, they have not yet ratified it, that is, they do not feel interested in this code. The same goes for Russia or Ukraine. China has not even signed the statute. Neither India nor Saudi Arabia.
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