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Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.

Anthropogenic ecocide[edit]

The term ecocide is more recently used to refer to the destructive impact of humanity on its own natural environment. As a group of complex organisms we are committing ecocide through unsustainable exploitation of the planet's resources. The geological era we are living in, known as the anthropocene, is so named because the activities of the human species are influencing the Earth's natural state in a way never seen before. The most notable example is that of the atmosphere which is being transformed through the emission of gases from fossil fuel use : carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons etc. The population explosion of the last century in conjunction with economic models built on growth are fuelling this misuse, a form of global ecocide. The ecocide we are witnessing is a symptom of the disregard and reward for accounting for the damage being caused. U.S. environmental theorist and activist Patrick Hossay [1] argues that the human species is committing ecocide, via industrial civilization's effects on the global environment. Much of the modern environmental movement stems from this belief as a precept.

International crime[edit]

The concept of creating an international crime of Ecocide as the extensive damage, destruction to and loss of ecosystems has a history dating back to the 1970s.[2][3] In 1972 at the United Nations Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment which adopted the Stockholm Declaration, Olof Palme the Prime Minister of Sweden, in his opening speech spoke explicitly of the Vietnam war as an ecocide and it was discussed in the unofficial events running parallel to the official UN Stockholm Conference on Human Environment.[4]

The ILC 1978 Yearbook's 'Draft articles on State Responsibility and International Crime' included: “an international crime (which) may result, inter alia, from: (d) a serious breach of an international obligation of essential importance for the safeguarding and preservation of the human environment, such as those prohibiting massive pollution of the atmosphere or of the seas.”[5] From there onward ecocide as a crime continued to be addressed. The Whitaker report, commissoned by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights on the question of the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide was prepared by then Special Rapporteur, Benjamin Whitaker.[6] The report contained a passage that “some members of the Sub-Commission have however proposed that the definition of genocide should be broadened to include cultural genocide or "ethnocide", and also "ecocide": adverse alterations, often irreparable, to the environment - for example through nuclear explosions, chemical weapons, serious pollution and acid rain, or destruction of the rain forest - which threaten the existence of entire populations, whether deliberately or with criminal negligence.”[7]

The ILC 'Draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind' of 1991 would contain 12 crimes. [8] One of those was 'wilful damage to the environment'. The International Law Commission reduced the 12 crimes to 6. The draft code discussions moved to the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly (see: 12th - 25th and 44th meetings reports). At the GA Sixth Committee’s 12th Meeting held on 12 October 1995: “the Special Rapporteur on the topic had presented his thirteenth report recommending that only 6 of the 12 crimes identified in first reading for inclusion in the Code should be retained, namely… wilful and severe damage to the environment (article 26).”[9]

By the General Assembly Sixth Committee’s 16th meeting held on 17 October 1995, ‘wilful and severe damage to the environment’ was removed. Meanwhile in the ILC, ‘wilful and severe damage to the environment’ (Article 26) had been tasked to a working-group: “The Commission further decided that consultations would continue as regards [Article 26] …the Commission decided … to establish a working group that would meet … to examine the possibility of covering in the draft Code the issue of wilful and severe damage to the environment.”[10]

In the same year, Canadian/Australian lawyer Mark Gray published his 1988[11] proposal for an international crime of ecocide, based on established international environmental and human rights law. He argued that states, and arguably individuals and organisations, causing or permitting harm to the natural environment on a massive scale breach a duty of care owed to humanity in general. He proposed that such breaches, where deliberate, reckless or negligent, be identified as ecocide where they entail serious, and extensive or lasting, ecological damage; international consequences; and waste.[12]

19 countries spoke out in the Legal Committee in favour of retaining damage to the environment on the list of crimes covered in the draft Code. In the same session Mr. Lukashuk objected: “at the fiftieth session of the General Assembly, the majority of Member States had come out in favour of characterizing "ecocide" as a crime, and only three States, France, Brazil and the Czech Republic were against it.”[13] On 5 July 1996, the final Draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind was adopted on second reading by the ILC and ‘wilful and severe damage to the environment’ had been removed, as was the section on State Responsibility.

A proposed definition[edit]

Ecocide is not currently an international crime, although it is a domestic crime in at least ten countries. Those countries follow closely the ILC Draft articles definition of "An individual who wilfully causes or orders the causing of widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment shall, on conviction thereof, be sentenced [to...]."[14] However, there is one international crime which criminalizes the widespread, long-term and severe damage to the non-human environment during war time if it is not covered by military necessity. Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute prohibits:

"Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the non-human environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated. "

Existing domestic ecocide laws[edit]

Ten countries have codified ecocide as a crime during peacetime. Although there are Laws of Ecocide in place, the effectiveness of these laws depends on a number of factors including the enforcement of the law, an independent judiciary and respect for the rule of law. Many of the countries with national laws of ecocide in place are ranked very highly for corruption and low for respect for the rule of law by Transparency International.[15]

Georgia 1999[edit]

Article 409. Ecocide: "Ecocide, i.e. contamination of atmosphere, land and water resources, mass destruction of flora and fauna or any other action that could have caused ecological disaster - shall be punishable by ..."[16]

Republic of Armenia 2003[edit]

Article 394. Ecocide: "Mass destruction of flora or fauna, poisoning the environment, the soils or water resources, as well as implementation of other actions causing an ecological catastrophe, is punished ..."[17]

Ukraine 2001[edit]

Article 441. Ecocide: "Mass destruction of flora and fauna, poisoning of air or water resources, and also any other actions that may cause an environmental disaster, - shall be punishable by ..."[18]

Belarus 1999[edit]

Art 131. Ecocide: "Deliberate mass destruction of flora and fauna, or poisoning the air or water, or the commission of other intentional acts that could cause an ecological disaster (ecocide), - shall be punished by ..."[19]

Kazakhstan 1997[edit]

Art 161. Ecocide: "Mass destruction of flora or fauna, poisoning the atmosphere, land or water resources, as well as the commission of other acts which caused or a capable of causation of an ecological catastrophe, - shall be punished by..."[20]

Kyrgyzstan 1997[edit]

Art 374. Ecocide: "Massive destruction of the animal or plant kingdoms, contamination of the atmosphere or water resources, and also commission of other actions capable of causing an ecological catastrophe, shall be punishable ..."[21]

Republic of Moldova 2002[edit]

Art 136. Ecocide: "Deliberate mass destruction of flora and fauna, poisoning the atmosphere or water resources, and the commission of other acts that may cause or caused an ecological disaster shall be punished ..."[22]

Russian Federation 1996[edit]

Art 358. Ecocide: "Massive destruction of the animal or plant kingdoms, contamination of the atmosphere or water resources, and also commission of other actions capable of causing an ecological catastrophe, shall be punishable by ..."[23]

Tajikistan 1998[edit]

Art 400. Ecocide: "Mass destruction of flora and fauna, poisoning the atmosphere or water resources, as well as commitment of other actions which may cause ecological disasters is punishable ..."[24]

Uzbekistan 1994[edit]

Art 196. Pollution of Natural Environment: "Pollution or damage of land, water, or atmospheric air, resulted in mass disease incidence of people, death of animals, birds, or fish, or other grave consequences – shall be punished ..."[25]

Vietnam 1990[edit]

Art 342 Crimes against mankind: "Those who, in peace time or war time, commit acts of ... as well as other acts of genocide or acts of ecocide or destroying the natural environment, shall be sentenced ..."[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hossay, Patrick (2006). Unsustainable: A Primer for Global Environmental and Social Justice. United Kingdom: ZED Books. ISBN 1842776576. 
  2. ^ Gray, Mark Allan. "The international crime of ecocide" (1996) California Western International Law Journal, volume 26, pages 215 et seq.
  3. ^ Megret, Frederic. "The Case for a General International Crime Against the Environment" (April 3, 2010).
  4. ^ Björk, Tord. "The emergence of popular participation in world politics: United Nations Conference on Human Environment 1972" (1996) Department of Political Science, University of Stockholm, page 15; last accessed 16/07/12.
  5. ^ A/CN.4/SER.A/1978/Add.l (Part 2), Page 80, Article 19.2. (d) [1]
  6. ^ The Whitaker Report E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/6.
  7. ^ E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/6, page 17, para 33
  8. ^ A/CN.4/SER.A/1991
  9. ^ A/C.6/50/SR.12, page 3, para 9
  10. ^ 1996 Yearbook of the ILC Vol II, Part 2, p16, paras 40 & 41, A/CN.4/SER.A/1996 Add.1 (Part 2)
  11. ^ LL.M. thesis proposal, Monash University Faculty of Law, Melbourne. Supervisor Professor Christopher G Weeramantry.
  12. ^ Gray, Mark Allan, "The international crime of ecocide" California Western International Law Journal (1996) volume 26 page 215 et seq.; and "The international crime of ecocide" (2003) in International Crimes, The Library of Essays in International Law, ed. N Passas, Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot UK.
  13. ^ 1996 ILC Yearbook, Vol 1, page 111, para 29, A/CN.4/SR.2448
  14. ^ A/CN.4/SER.A/1991
  15. ^ "Transparency International". Retrieved 2014-08-15. 
  16. ^ "Criminal Code of Georgia 1999 Article 409". 1999-07-22. Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  17. ^ "Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia 2003 Article 394". Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  18. ^ "Criminal Code of Ukraine 2001 Article 441". Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  19. ^ (Russian)Original text: Статья 131. Экоцид Умышленное массовое уничтожение растительного или животного мира, либо отравление атмосферного воздуха или водных ресурсов, либо совершение иных умышленных действий, способных вызвать экологическую катастрофу (экоцид), – наказываются ... Penal Code of Belarus 1999 Art 131. Retrieved 2015-07-15
  20. ^ Code Kazakhstan 1997 (Amended 2011) Art 161. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
  21. ^ "Penal Code Kyrgyzstan 1997 (Amended 2009) Art 342". Retrieved 2015-07-15.
  22. ^ "Penal Code Republic of Moldova 2002 (amended 2009) Art 136". Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  23. ^ "Criminal Code Russian Federation 1996 Art 358". Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  24. ^ "Criminal Code Tajikistan 1998 Art 400". Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  25. ^ Criminal Code of Uzbekistan 1994 Art. 196. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
  26. ^ "Penal Code Vietnam 1990 Art 342". Retrieved 2015-07-15. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Franz, Broswimmer (2002). Ecocide: A Short History of Mass Extinction of Species. Pluto Press. ISBN 0-7453-1934-3. 
  • Cherson, Adam (2009). Ecocide: Humanity's Environmental Demons. Greencore Books. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-595-46318-3. 
  • Higgins, Polly (2010). Eradicating Ecocide: Laws and Governance to Prevent the Destruction of our Planet. Shepheard-Walwyn. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-85683-275-8.