New ecocide project launches with discovery of UN research

Ecocide law could be closer than previously thought following discovery of documents revealing it was discussed by UN in the past

The Ecocide Project will spend the next two years carrying out research and promoting a global conversation on ecocide – which it defines as the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of an ecosystem – and the potential creation of a new law to prevent it.

The initiative launched on 19 July by releasing a research study called Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace. The study investigates recently discovered United Nations documents that cover over ten years of research and debate on ecocide between 1972 and 1996.

The documents, which have never before been seen by the public, include early plans for a draft ecocide law. However, ecocide was not included in the 1998 Rome Statute, which identified the four current crimes against peace: genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity.

“This research is invaluable, not least because it demonstrates that the law of ecocide was very much within the minds of those involved in the drafting of the original crimes against peace,” said Polly Higgins, a lawyer currently campaigning for an ecocide law and co-author of the study. “Moreover, it will accelerate our process of engaging nations and the UN. Never has there been a more crucial time in history to take decisive steps to stop mass damage and destruction of our Earth,” said Higgins.

The study is the first in a series of papers expected to be released between now and the end of the project in 2014.

The Ecocide Project is managed by Doctor Damien Short from the School of Advanced Study at the University of London. It is run in partnereship with the campaign group Eradicating Ecocide and the Human Rights Consortium, which was established by  the University of London to facilitate and promote human rights research in the UK.

As well producing research, the Ecocide Project is aiming to stimulate a global discussion between academics, activists and policy makers by hosting events including conferences, workshops, seminars and short courses.

Damien Short said: “Over time, we hope to provide a full intellectual and institutional history of the concept and crime of ecocide, to further understanding but also to show that it is an idea whose time has surely come.”