Legal experts present definition of ecocide for adoption by ICC

After six months of deliberation, a panel of 12 independent legal experts from across the globe on Tuesday unveiled a working definition of “ecocide” that they hope will be adopted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The panel was organized by the Stop Ecocide Foundation, an NGO whose stated focus is facilitating the adoption of ecocide by the ICC in order to “protect future life on Earth.” The panel recommends adding “(e) the crime of Ecocide” to Article 5(1) of the Rome Statute with the following definition:

Article 8 ter
Ecocide

  1. For the purpose of this Statute, “ecocide” means 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.

The proposal includes a recommendation to include within the preamble, “that the environment is daily threatened by severe destruction and deterioration, gravely endangering natural and human systems worldwide.”

Amendments based on the panel’s work would extend the ICC authority to cover crimes of international interest and relevance to include serious environmental harm, something critics have long stated was desperately needed to combat large polluters.

In adopting the amendment, the panel hopes the ICC would be able to hold large polluters to account for the continued pollution of our environment and the exacerbation of climate change while enhancing a “change of consciousness” that supports protecting the environment. The authors recognize that there are national laws and international agreements that contribute to the protection of our ecosystem, but admit that “it is apparent that such laws are inadequate.”

The ICC’s authority is derived from the Rome Statute, which primarily covers actions that occur during warfare, not during times of peace when most environmental disasters occur. The “ecocide” amendment would remedy this problem, and give the ICC authority to hold business and government leaders for their actions in times of peace.

Any of the 123 member states of the ICC can propose the panel’s recommendations as an amendment to Rome Statute. Afterward, the court’s assembly will hold a vote to determine if the proposal can be considered for enactment. The member states must then secure a two-thirds majority to fully adopt the draft law before each individual nation ratifies and can enforce the law. “Ecocide” would be the first new crime to be adopted into international criminal law since 1945.