ROME, Feb 28 (IPS) – Genocide, war crimes, aggression, ecocide, crimes against humanity – which is the odd one out? The correct answer is ecocide – destroying, polluting or harming the natural world of life on a large scale is not one of the crimes that can be prosecuted in international criminal court in The Hague.
So ecocide, which literally means “killing one’s home”, can take place constantly in large parts of the world at the moment and no one is held accountable.
Deforestation, oil spills, air pollution – the companies behind episodes of serious environmental damage like this can sometimes be sued and sometimes fined, but they can simply budget for it. No one gets arrested, so there is no real deterrent.
A growing global network of lawyers, diplomats and activists is campaigning to correct this and have ecocide join this exclusive club of “crimes against peace” that the International Criminal Court can punish to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“We call ecocide the missing crime,” Sue Miller, director of Global Networks for The Stop Ecocide campaign, told IPS.
“Right now, companies are causing serious environmental damage in the pursuit of profit. More often than not, they’re getting away with it.
“If held accountable, they could end up paying fines, some civil damages, or even possibly a bribe to make the problem go away.
“Regardless of the penalty, it is monetary and can sit 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 Global South who are its greatest victims.
“At the moment, it is predominantly companies based in the global north that cause environmental damage in the global south, where the rule of law is often not as strong, says Miller.
“An international ecocide law will not only strengthen national laws, but will also provide a last resort for those affected by ecocide who cannot receive justice in their own countries.”
But above all, it would also create a deterrent effect against throwing away the environment that does not currently exist.
Miller believes this would be a game changer when it comes to business practices.
“A new ecocide offense would impose personal criminal liability on the key decision-makers – the controlling minds – in most cases the company’s directors,” she said.
“As such, an ecocide law will reach into the boardrooms where decisions are made and act as a brake on the projects that cause the worst environmental damage.
“Faced with prosecution and possible jail time, business leaders are likely to be much more cautious about the projects they approve.
“Funding and insurance for potentially ecocidal projects will dry up and funds, effort and talent will be diverted to healthier, more sustainable practices.
“While it will enable justice to be pursued if harm occurs, more importantly, an ecocide law has the power to stop the harm occurring in the first place.”
Rather than being hostile to the law, Miller argues that many CEOs actually want legislation that would prohibit 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 advantages 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 risks; and providing a steer towards more sustainable business practices”.
These are among the reasons that make Miller confident that the push to criminalize ecocide will ultimately succeed, despite the power of lobbyists who oppose it.
The campaign has won support from figures including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Pope FrancisGreta Thunberg and Paul McCartney.
In June 2021, an independent panel of experts presented its formal definition of the proposed crime of ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with the knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood that serious and either widespread or long-lasting damage to the environment will be caused by those acts.”.
When discussions were underway for the establishment of 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, a state’s use of armed force against another state’s sovereignty, integrity or independence did not come under its jurisdiction until 2018.
In the end, Ecocide was released during a closed-door meeting for reasons that remain unclear.
The world today would probably be a better place if it had been there from the beginning.
“If that had been in place, so many events since then might not only have been punished but might not have happened at all,” Miller said.
“Had ecocide legislation been in place, for example, it is unlikely that (former Brazilian President) Jair Bolsonaro would have been so keen to encourage the destruction of the Amazon in Brazil.
“It is unlikely that companies would now be prospecting for deep sea mines.
“So much of the damage we’re seeing now could have been avoided”.
© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service