“How any given act is considered a crime depends on a variety of things, such as class warfare and current power balances in society. Especially if a society lives with a series of structural inequalities, such as covered up and unpunished crimes, then experiencing the crises of capitalism is felt more deeply,” Onur Yılmaz writes for Gazete Karınca as legal experts from across the globe draw up an “historic” definition of ecocide, intended to be adopted by the international criminal court to prosecute the most egregious offences against the environment.
Examples of these obvious crimes are the huge construction projects that have been implemented all over the country such as energy, mining, road, infrastructure, shopping malls, etc. These are crimes; intended for the means of accumulation of wealth by direct dispossession of land and resources; because the destruction that takes place with these construction projects causes the deaths of thousands of living creatures and the loss of their habitat; it is based on brutal force and deepens social inequalities as well as intensive labour exploitation. Mostly, these crimes can only be stopped by the legitimate resistance of the local people, at the same time the legal struggle plays a important role to sustain this resistance. However, although these legal victories can and sometimes do help to defend our ecology in the long run the law is almost always “inherently” in favor of ‘big capital’.
It is a fact that the ecological struggle will continue to be conducted through legal channels, but in the process of global ecological collapse, the law can also become an important tool to also define who is responsible for the ecological destruction and to explore how environmental justice can be achieved, rather than simply an avenue to halt or slow down the destruction.
There is such a development regarding the legal concept of ecocide, which has increasingly come to the fore in recent years, especially with studies carried out by some NGOs and associations.
The word ecocide historically originates from a Greek word ‘oikos’ meaning house, and the Latin word ‘caedere’ meaning killing.
First coining of the term ‘ecocide’ by Professor Arthur W. Galston. Professor Galston coined ‘ecocide’ at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington, where he also proposed a new international agreement to ban ecocide. The American scientist Arthur Galston used the term for his chemical warfare program that targeted an entire ecosystem. Galston was a US biologist who identified the defoliant effects of a chemical later developed into Agent Orange that was used by the US army in the Vietnam war.
At the UN Stockholm summit on environmental issues in 1972, it was Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme that was the first to make a call for ecocide to be drawn into international criminal law. The UN International Law Commission considered adding environmental destruction and related crimes to its draft title, Crimes Against Peace and the Security of Humanity, in 1980.
However these were left outside the scope when the draft was finally accepted and evolved into the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Today, the Rome Statute recognizes four titles; genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and recently added acts of violence as international crimes.
Since 2017, a number of environmental groups led by the ‘Stop Ecocide Foundation’ in the Netherlands, including human rights defenders and lawyers, company owners and members of the government, have been working on how to prosecute major environmental crimes.
In October 2020, the Foundation convened the ‘Independent Experts Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide’ June 2021.
A panel of 12 lawyers from around the world including other expert opinions and the public have now created a draft outline to prosecute environmental crimes and proposed a legal definition for a new crime internationally; ecocide or widespread destruction of the environment to be added as a fifth crime for the International Criminal Court to prosecute.
The panel recommended the following definition for ecocide: ‘Unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.’ https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/22/legal-experts-worldwide-draw-up-historic-definition-of-ecocide
123 signatory countries for the Rome Statute also have the right to propose suggestions.
However, member states and other official institutions have not been able to reach an international consensus on this issue leading to the climate crisis and ecological collapse; In fact, no serious attempt was made until now. The US was the first country to criminalise ecocide after the Vietnam war.
Although other countries do have criminal provisions regarding ecocide within their domestic laws these have never been effective enough because ‘big capital’ always presents its own interests as “national interests”.
The oil drilling rig BP’s Deepwater Horizon, in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded and sank resulting in an environmental disaster in 2010. A week ago, a widely reported fire seemingly on the ocean surface west of Mexico broke out as a result of a gas leak from an underwater pipeline of the state oil company Pemex.
Fossil fuel disasters have occurred in Nigeria and Russia in the last year. Brazil has the highest deforestation rate in the world and the annual rate of deforestation in the Amazon region continues to increase. Climate change represents one of the greatest threats in the long-term and has caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their livelihoods in Africa and Southeast Asian countries.
Companies pay limited compensation for expenses related to the far-reaching consequences of environmental ”accidents”. Reports on the environmental destruction caused are not given to the companies. Displaced people unfortunately continue on a struggle for survival without the capacity to question the systematic ecological disaster.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Living Planet Report is alarming for the world’s biodiversity, showing an average 68% decline in animal population since the 1970s.
This rate rises up to 94% for Latin America. Kew’s State of the World’s Plants and Fungi report of the Royal Botanic Gardens, details the breakdown of all threats to all plant species. Approximately (39%) – 140,000 species, are under threat of extinction in the next decades.
A new report shows the importance that fighting climate change and nature loss must be interlinked. The report was prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, 1.8 million hectares of forest burned in 2020, while the biodiversity and livelihood of people were severely damaged.
The concept of ecocide will be adopted as a crime at the UN summit in Stockholm in June 2022.
As the struggle for ecology becomes stronger, it will be an important gain if ‘big capital’ is forced to take a step back and for ecological trials to expand beyond individual punishments and just stopping projects.
The destruction of nature, can only be ended with revolutionary transformations. This is only possible within the context of ecocide serving as the springboard for the larger struggles of ecologists.