UN plans review of environmental crime

Planned study hailed as significant step towards making mass destruction of the environment a crime against peace, while new campaign to end ecocide by 2020 is launched

The Untied Nations is to carry out a study into the definition of environmental crime. The move was announced at the International Conference on Environmental Crime held in Rome in October 2012, which brought together legal experts from around the world to discuss problems with existing environmental law and begin developing an action plan for the future.

The study will be undertaken by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI).

According to campaign group Eradicating Ecocide, the study will take into consideration the possibility of making ecocide a fifth crime against peace, alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity. Ecocide refers to any large-scale destruction of the environment, for example mass deforestation or a large oil spill.

Eradicating Ecocide said that UNEP and UNICRI made statements recognising that criminal law, and perhaps an ecocide law, could play a major role in preventing damage and destruction to the environment. The group believes that support is growing for the campaign among officials.

“Throughout the conference it became evident that while there were some experts who were unfamiliar with the proposal to make ecocide a crime against peace, others had been following the issue closely and were very engaged,” said Louise Kulbicki, a lawyer and Eradicating Ecocide representative.

WISH20 campaign

To keep the pressure up on the UN and world leaders to support an ecocide law, Eradicating Ecocide has recently launched a campaign that aims to stop ecocide entirely by 2020.

Called WISH20, it is described by Eradicating Ecocide as “a global citizens initiative,” based on the idea of promoting the kind of world people would like to see in 2020. The campaign enables people around the world to sign up online to show their support for making ecocide a crime against peace.

“It’s about uniting millions of people across the word in their wish to end ecocide,” said Eradicating Ecocide founder, Polly Higgins. “When we do this, we mandate our leaders to make that one very big wish come true.”

The campaign also sets out a timeline of how this can be achieved by 2020. Between now and 2014, one head of state must call for an amendment to the Rome Statute, which sets out the existing crimes against peace. An ecocide law could then be voted on in 2014 and if 81 heads of state vote in favour, it would become international law.

Following implementation of the law, a transition period would occur between 2015 and 2020 whereby all countries and businesses would phase out any activity that could cause ecocide. In the meantime, Eradicating Ecocide aims to collect as many signatures of support as possible by 2014.