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For the sake its victims
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For the sake its victims

Fire burns in a field


In November, the world’s first global citizens’ assembly – made up of 100 people chosen by lottery from around the world – declared its recommended responses to the climate crisis at the UN climate conference COP26. Among these recommendations was that causing severe environmental destruction, or “ecocide”, should become a crime.

The proposal of the Stop Ecocidefoundation defines ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with the knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”.

Campaigners hope this definition will be adopted in the future by the International Criminal Court (ICC). If it were, ecocide and crimes against humanity would be included in the list of war crimes. list of the world’s most serious crimes.

Since the ’80s, calls for ecocide to be criminalized have been made 1970s, following America’s devastating use of the chemical Agent OrangeThe Vietnam War. The enormous harmIt caused damage to the environment (destroying forests and decimating biodiversity) as well as to humans (harming and killing thousands of people). This led to proposals for an international law against ecocide.

Although initially unsuccessful, recent decades have seen unprecedented support from the public for the criminalization and punishment of ecocide. This includes from the Republic of VanuatuThe Republic of Maldives, Belgium, FranceThe EU.

Fire burns in a field
Ecocide reparations may help restore damaged landscapes.
UN_photo/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Campaigners claim this will end to corporate immunitybringing individuals in positions of corporate power to answer for their destructive actions. But less attention has been given to another benefit: the ICC’s power to award reparations to victims.

What are reparations?

ReparationsThere are many forms of compensation available to victims of crime. The ICC has recognized that reparations are possible awardedFor physical or psychological harm done to a natural person (defined as a human being) and a legal person (defined as some organizations).

These reparations cannot be granted to animals or the natural world. This means that any ecocide reparations would have to be made to humans and human organizations. Nevertheless, the ability to award reparations could provide victims of ecocide with the opportunity to restore, or memorialise, what they’ve lost – as well as potentially helping to prevent future environmental destruction.

The ICC could, for example, provide funds to support environmental restoration projects that benefit ecocide victims. This could be a reforestation, or biodiversity projectA community that relied on an ecosystem that was damaged for sustenance.

While the ICC hasn’t done this before, previous examples can be found elsewhere. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHDR) has awardedThe Kichwa Indigenous Community in Ecuador received reforestation programs, while the New South Wales Land and Environment Court in Australia has. ordered people convicted of destroying endangered animals’ habitats to arrange and fund restoration projects.

A forest by a body of water
Ecocide reparation projects could help to reforest logged forests.

What’s more, the law could allow victims to be financially compensated for things like the pollution of rivers used for fishing or the destruction of spiritually significant land. Other courts have also done this. awarded compensationfor similar harms: like to the Saramaka Indigenous group in Surinamefor the loss or disruption of their spiritual connections to their territory, marred through logging.

Locals could have access to clean water and food as well as an income stream that is sustainable from the local economy through compensations. The ICC – through its associated body, the Trust Fund for Victims – has previously supportedTraining in beekeeping and tree planting in Northern Uganda to aid victims of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and national authorities earn money.

The ICC could also investigate symbolic reparations. This could involve the convicted person publicly apologising and acknowledging the suffering they’ve caused. This may not be as valuable as offering money or other support to victims. It might help to recognize the loss and make ecocide an international crime.

Take inspiration from the environment peacebuilding efforts around the world, symbolic reparations could include creating restorative memorial parks, or “peace parks”. These could be used as memorials by communities in need, and to support local conservation efforts.

Going further, the ICC might consider awarding even more “transformative reparations” that challenge social inequality. These could be designed so that marginalised communities have more control over the management of natural resources.

A stone mural in a park
These peace parks in Santiago, Chile might be used to memorialize environmental crimes.
David Berkowitz/Wikimedia Commons

A type of transformative reparation is a “guarantee of non-repetition”, designed to stop similar crimes from happening again. The ICC is an example of this in Mali. requestedTo prevent future attacks, the Trust Fund for Victims and the Mali government collaborate to ensure that this happens. Timbuktu’s protected cultural heritage.

In the contexts of ecocide, ensuring non-repetition could mean training local people in environmental protection or strengthening weak environmental regulations. These larger goals would require support from the government or corporations and would need to be linked to the crimes committed by the convicted.

This highlights a crucial limitation of ICC: It is constrainedin what it can do by itself. It is possible to achieve meaningful environmental restoration after ecocide if there are many participants, including corporations and national governments, which may not be willing or able to cooperate. And since the ICC doesn’t hold jurisdiction over corporations, it can’t demand broader changes in corporate practices that may be causing environmental harm.

However, the ICC can still be involved in the fight against ecological justice. This allows us to consider ecocide as the life-alteringIt is a crime that can be extremely destructive. Faced with a climate crisis, and an age of mass extinction, we must use all the tools in our arsenal – including law – to protect and repair the natural world.


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