Monthly Archives: June 2012

Ecocide: A legal green high?

At the heart of its official negotiations, the Rio+20 summit is all about looking for political agreements that will improve the lot of society, particularly the poorest, and of nature.

Politics isn’t necessarily the best course, nor politicians the best people to plot such a course, to judge by the glacial, boulder-strewn pace of talks here in Rio.

The science is clear on so many of the issues, and ministers acknowledge it – but they see many other factors too, which is why the political response on issues such as climate change often lags way behind the science.

If politics can’t get on with it, what about the law?

In 1996, lawyer Mark Gray had a simple vision: make ecocide (destroying nature) a crime.

Well, you might say, any country can do that – and many countries have, in various degrees. Depending on where you live, lighting bush fires, stealing birds’ eggs, dumping old motor oil in streams and building on the habitat of a protected newt can all land you in court.

But other nations don’t have such laws. Also, activities that harm the natural world sometimes take place beyond national boundaries, such as exploitative high-seas fishing – and some of the worst are performed by companies belonging to one state but operating in the territory of another.

Hence a move several years back by UK barrister Polly Higgins to make ecocide one of the five international “crimes against peace”, joining war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

The Eradicating Ecocide movement isn’t talking about slap-on-the-wrist punishments for law-breaking.

Last year they mounted a “trial” trial – a demonstration, if you will – where two CEOs of fictional Canadian tar sands companies faced a court staffed by real lawyers, a real judge and a real jury. More


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