Ecocide: 5th Crime Against Peace



There are already four international Crimes Against Peace. They are: Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, and Crimes of Aggression. There is a missing 5th Crime Against Peace: that crime is Ecocide.

Non-ascertainable Ecocide: where the consequence, or potential consequence, is destruction, damage or loss to the territory per se, but without specific identification of cause as being that which has been created by specific human activity.

Examples of non-ascertainable ecocide affecting sizeable territories include:
    1.    *hurricanes
    2.    *tornadoes
    3.    *rising sea levels
    4.    *tsunamis
    5.    *volcanic eruptions

Ascertainable Ecocide: where the consequence, or potential consequence, is destruction, damage or loss to the territory, and liability of the legal person(s) can be determined.

The destruction of large areas of the environment and ecosystems can be caused directly or indirectly by various activities, such as nuclear testing, exploitation of resources, extractive practices, dumping of harmful chemicals, use of defoliants, emission of pollutants or war.

Examples of ascertainable ecocide affecting sizeable territories include:
    1.    * the Athabasca Oil Sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada
    2.    * the deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest
    3.    * water pollution

Ascertainable ecocide is a crime of consequence, primarily arising out of corporate damaging and destructive activity which is primarily governed by ineffectual and nominal civil legislation.  In the case of non-ascertainable ecocide (other causes - eg. tsunami, rising sea levels - climate change driven) there is currently no coherent international mechanism in place to help territories that are rendered unable to self-govern and are in need of emergency assistance. Instead, we deal with each disaster on a 'case by case' basis after the event.

By legally defining Ecocide two aspects can be addressed:

Firstly, to halt the flow of destruction at source, create a pre-emptive duty on corporate activity to prohibit the mass damage and destruction to ecosystems from the outset. By making ecocide an international crime on par with genocide it creates a powerful pre-emptive obligation and preventative measure that would render those in a superior position of responsibility - CEO's, heads of state and heads of financial institutions - at risk of incarceration where they are responsible for taking decisions that lead to, support or finance mass damage, destruction or loss of ecosystems. By leveraging a criminal sanction of imprisonment against natural persons, not legal fictional entities, the cycle of destruction and accrual of silent rights (the right to pollute, the right to destroy habitat etc) by corporations can be broken. In so doing, the protection of interests shifts, from those few who have ownership/contractual rights to a given territory to the protection of the interests of the many who are suffering the loss of their peaceful right to enjoyment of their territory that has been subjected to or is at risk of ecocide.

Secondly, the issue of what mechanisms can be used to implement a duty of care for communities at risk of ecocide, such as Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Maldives etc: By legally defining ecocide, the currently defunct UN Trusteeship Council can be restored to impose a legal duty of care on all Member states for those territories adversely affected by ecocide (whether it be ascertainable or non-ascertainable) which in turn has rendered them non-self-governing.

Find out more about Polly’s proposal to the United Nations for the Crime of Ecocide and hear her speak see

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