Explained | The global push to make ecocide a crime

Source: The post is based on the article “Explained | The global push to make ecocide a crime” published in The Hindu on 7th September 2023

What is the News?

Mexico is considering passing a law to make ecocide a crime.

What is Ecocide?

Ecocide is derived from Greek and Latin.It translates to ‘killing one’s home’ or ‘environment’. 

Such ‘killing’ could include port expansion projects that destroy fragile marine life and local livelihoods; deforestation; illegal sand mining; polluting rivers with untreated sewage.

Legal Definition of ecocide: There is no accepted legal definition of ecocide, but a Stop Ecocide Foundation in 2021 prepared a definition of ecocide.

– It has defined Ecocide as the unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.

Commonly cited examples of ecocide include: deforestation during the Vietnam War, the destruction of the environment during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, deforestation in Indonesia and the Amazon rainforest, oil pollution in the Niger Delta and the Chernobyl disaster. 

The term ‘ecocide’ was popularized by Olof Palme when he accused the United States of ecocide at the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment.

Is ecocide covered under International Law?

At present, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) deals with four atrocities: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. 

– The provision on war crimes is the only statute that can hold a perpetrator responsible for environmental damage albeit if it is intentionally caused and during wartime situations.

Why should ecocide be criminalized?

Over a third of the earth’s animal and plant species could be extinct by 2050. Unprecedented heat waves have broken records worldwide. Changing rainfall schemes have disrupted flood and drought patterns.

Deforestation of the Amazon, deep-sea trawling or even the catastrophic 1984 Bhopal gas disaster could have been avoided with ecocide laws in place.

Ecocide laws could also double up as calls for justice for low- and middle-income countries disproportionately affected by climate change.

Which countries have criminalized ecocide?

Ecocide is a crime in 11 countries, with 27 other nations mulling laws around criminalizing environmental damage that is wilfully caused and harms humans, animals and plant species. 

The European Parliament voted unanimously this year to enshrine ecocide in law.

What has been India’s stance on ecocide?

Some Indian judgments have used the term ‘ecocide’ in passing, but the concept hasn’t fully materialized in law.

– In Chandra CFS and Terminal Operators Pvt. Ltd. v. The Commissioner of Customs and Ors (2015), the Madras High Court noted: the prohibitory activities of ecocide have been continuing unbridledly by certain sections of people by removing the valuable and precious timbers.

– In an ongoing case, T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union of India & Ors, the Supreme Court called attention to an “anthropogenic bias” and argued that “environmental justice could be achieved only if we drift away from the principle of anthropocentric to ecocentric”.

Hence, there is a need for India to align the existing environmental legislations with the concept of ecocide.

One more critical challenge is to tackle problems of liability and compensation.For instance, the survivors of Bhopal gas tragedy are still fighting for compensation.

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