It’s strange to think that, although crimes against humanity are an established (albeit recent) aspect of international law, no such equivalent exists for the non-human. As Jacques Derrida puts it in The Beast and the Sovereign: “There is no ‘crime against animality’ nor crime of genocide against nonhuman living beings.”
Ecocide is a crime, however, but – and this is even more strange – only during war-time. Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute, which entered into force in 2002, prohibits “widespread, long-term and severe damage to the non-human environment” but only if it is conscious, excessive and caused through the launch of an attack. It seems extraordinary that this is legally permissible during peace time, but it is, and it is happening all the time.
The idea of making ecocide an international crime during peace time has been around for years, and it’s already a domestic crime in at least ten countries, including Vietnam, Russia, and several countries in the former Soviet Union. And now a grass-routes imitative has emerged with the expressed aim of causing severe cases of environmental destruction to be recognised as a crime, for which those responsible can be held accountable.
Compared to ecocide, all other issues
fade into the background.
Aptly named End Ecocide in Europe, this volunteer-run organisation hopes to utilise the European Citizens’ Initiative by garnering 1 million signatures to force the proposed law to be discussed at EU level. So far, they’re over 75,000 – which is undoubtedly impressive, but there’s still some way to go.
“We are continually told we have to recycle, use less water etc.,” says Prisca Merz, Director of End Ecocide in Europe’s European Citizens’ Committee, “but the big corporations just carry on as usual – industrial agriculture, oil spills, deforestation. What does changing my behaviour do if they simply carry on?” Prisca points to a recent piece in the journal Climate Change in which studies show that two thirds of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane between 1751 and 2010 were emitted by just 90 companies.
Prisca was inspired to start the campaign during a talk given by UK lawyer, author and Eradicating Ecocide campaigner, Polly Higgins. “There are many individuals and businesses who want to do the right thing,” Prisca says, “but the existing structure means that their duty is primarily to provide profits for shareholders. “A new legal framework is needed to protect our human right to healthy environment and enable decision-makers to make the right decisions. With this one simple amendment, we can have a huge impact in transforming the way we do business.”
Whether or not End Ecocide in Europe are able to reach the required million, Prisca is adamant that they won’t give up: “We have reached a lot of people, and that is important for the long term,” she says. “Because compared to ecocide, all other issues fade into the background.”
Vote now to end ecocide in Europe.
Image credit: John Martin, The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, 1822. Damaged by Thames floodwater in 1928, shown here before its careful restoration in 2011. Read more about it on the Tate blog.