The proposal for the United Nations to accept “ecocide” as a fifth “crime against peace”, which could be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC), is the brainchild of British lawyer-turned-campaigner Polly Higgins.
The radical idea would have a profound effect on industries blamed for widespread damage to the environment like fossil fuels, mining, agriculture, chemicals and forestry.
Supporters of a new ecocide law also believe it could be used to prosecute “climate deniers” who distort science and facts to discourage voters and politicians from taking action to tackle global warming and climate change.
“Ecocide is in essence the very antithesis of life,” says Higgins. “It leads to resource depletion, and where there is escalation of resource depletion, war comes chasing behind. Where such destruction arises out of the actions of mankind, ecocide can be regarded as a crime against peace.”
Higgins, formerly a barrister in London specialising in employment, has already had success at the UN with a Universal Declaration for Planetary Rights, modelled on the human rights declaration. “My starting point was ‘how do we create a duty of care to the planet, a pre-emptive obligation to not harm the planet?'”
After a successful launch at the UN in 2008, the idea has been adopted by the Bolivian government, who will propose a full members’ vote, and Higgins has taken up her campaign for ecocide.
Ecocide is already recognised by dictionaries, but Higgins’ more legal definition would be: “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.”
The ICC was set up in 2002 to hear cases for four crimes against peace: genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression (such as unprovoked war), and crimes against humanity…