Demonstrators to march in Europe for the recognition by EU of ecocide as an international crime

Demonstrators to march in Europe for the recognition by EU of ecocide as an international crime
Press conference on the recognition of ecocide, Press Club Brussels, 14 March

An alliance of climate change and citizen movements plan to march in a common call on the EU to recognize the crime of ecocide.

In a European Day of Action, the march will take place on Sunday, 20 March, in Brussels. It is organised by local organisations (End Ecocide Belgium, Rise for Climate Belgium and Youth for Climate Belgium). Several other actions are organised in Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid and other European cities. The action day will be followed by a week of other activities.

A related protest is scheduled on Tuesday, 22 March, by the 'Agora des Habitants de la Terre' against the commodification of water, a vital natural resource which often is degraded in the extraction of fossil fuels by multinational companies.

The initiatives take place against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine where nuclear plants are threatened and on-going environmental disasters around the world such as oil spills and deforestation of forests.

The driving force behind the movement for the recognition of ecocide is the Stop Ecocide Foundation, which in June last year proposed to amend the statutes of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and include ecocide alongside other international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

An international team of legal experts drafted a definition of ecocide and proposed it to be added to the statues of the ICC:

“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.”

Since then, the proposal has gained traction in the European Parliament and some EU member states, among them Belgium. It was also discussed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last year. The recognition of ecocide as an international crime was not explicitly included in the Glasgow Climate Pact but some wording in the Pact has a clear link to the reasoning behind legislation against ecocide.

Commission proposal

The march is scheduled to coincide with the European Commission´s legislative proposal for a new EU directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law. The Commission will disclose its legislative proposal this week to the Council. It will be discussed by the European Parliament where a majority MEPs are expected to support legislation against ecocide.

When presenting the proposal last December, Virginijus Sinkevicius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, referred to the discussion on the recognition of ecocide: “At a time where the international community discusses the crime of ecocide, a high level of environmental protection is not only important for present but also future generations as we redouble our efforts to fight environmental degradation.”

Back in December, a Commission spokesperson confirmed that the scope and jurisdiction of the new directive would be limited to the EU member states. A Commission official told The Brussels Times on Tuesday that the proposal for a revised directive does not contain the specific crime category “Ecocide”.

EU environmental law covers illegal action that is a breach of administrative law or implementing decisions of a competent authority, according to the Commission. The severity and spread of environmental damage will be treated as aggravating circumstances.

The Commission promises that it will follow closely international developments concerning the definition of and possible responses to ecocide.

The Directive contains a provision establishing a Member State’s jurisdiction where the offence has been committed by one of its nationals, independent of where the damage occurred. A Member State is free to decide to extend its jurisdiction to offences which have been committed outside its territory, where the offence is committed for the benefit of a legal person established on that Member State’s territory.

Parliamentary majority

At a press conference on Monday (14 March) at Press Club Brussels, Jojo Mehta, director of the Stop Ecocide International, said via video-link that the current legal framework to deal with climate change and the environmental threat against the planet is inadequate. The key missing element in the framework is international recognition of the crime of ecocide.

“The revision of the EU directive is a golden opportunity to recognize ecocide,” she underlined. Investors around the world have already started to consider such legislation.

French MEP Marie Toussant (Greens/EFA), initiator of the International Parliamentary Alliance for the Recognition of Ecocide, agreed and estimated that the chances of achieving a majority in the plenary of the European Parliament are promising in view of previous votes. The European Council, which represents the EU member states, is more divided on the issue.

But she admitted that it is difficult to predict the outcome of the vote in the parliament. “It will depend on the definition of ecocide and its scope.”

Samuel Cogolati, a member of the Belgian federal parliament was also optimistic and said that mobilisation works. After two years, a large majority in the Belgian parliament adopted a proposal to include ecocide – based on the definition proposed by the Stop Ecocide Foundation - in the criminal code. He argued that ecocide should target both individuals and companies.

Only individual persons - not states, nor organisations - can be brought to court by the ICC, according to the definition proposed by the international expert group targets.

“We see the focus on individuals as absolutely key in the deterrent and preventive potential of the ICC route,” Jojo Mehta explained. “Corporate decisions are ultimately made by individuals.  All too often those decision makers can hide behind the ‘corporate veil’ – and the company is fined, leaving the decision makers untouched.  One cannot, after all, jail a company.”

“If we were successful on Belgium level, I´m convinced that we´ll also succeed on European level,” Cogalati added. On the international level, Belgium´s minister of foreign affairs, Sophie Wilmès, calls on the ICC, where a two thirds majority is required for decisions, to adopt the definition and amend its statutes.

Chloé Mikolajczak, representing End Ecocide Belgium, called to increase the pressure on legislators and politicians, besides protesting in the streets.

In fact, ecocide involves two crimes, she said, as it affects both nature and human beings and threatens the future of mankind. She recalled the International Day against Racism, which is commemorated next week (21 March). Ecocide is a form of environmental racism because minorities and indigenous people are among the most affected by it.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times


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