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What is Ecocide? French Parliament passed ECOCIDE offence to punish environmental damage

What is Ecocide? French Parliament passed ECOCIDE offence to punish environmental damage

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  • GS 3 || Environment || Governance: International || Conventions & Protocols

Why in news?

  • The French National Assembly recently approved the creation of an “ecocide” offence as part of a battery of measures aimed at protecting the environment and tackling climate change.

Background

  • In April 2015, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of the Citizens Convention for Climate. The convention aimed to reduce the Green House Gas Emissions by 40% as compared to their levels in 1990.
  • The convention proposed the idea of making ecocide a crime.
  • In addition to establishing a law against ecocide, the convention received 149 proposals. Some of them included lowering the VAT on train fares, prohibiting domestic flights, restricting ads on polluting goods, and prohibiting domestic flights for journeys of less than four hours by train.
  • The GilletJaunes Crisis prompted the creation of the Convention.
  • The movement is also known as the Yellow Vests Movement.

Key features of the bill

  • Under the law, the transgressors are liable for up to ten years in prison and a fine of 4.5 million Euros (that is 5.4 million USD). A transgressor is a person who violates a rule or law or has done something unacceptable.
  • The law mainly punishes those who endanger the environment or commit a general crime of pollution. Such persons will be punished with three years in prison and a fine of 300,000 Euros.
  • The amount of a whole series of fines provided for by articles of the Environmental Code may also go up to 100,000 euros.

Objective

  • The aim is to strengthen the sanctions available to deal with “serious and durable” cases of intentional pollution of water, air or soil.

What is ecocide?

  • Ecocide – which means “killing the environment” – is an idea that seems both a highly radical and, campaigners claim, a reasonable one. The theory is that no one should go unpunished for destroying the natural world. Campaigners believe the crime should come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which can currently prosecute just four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.
  • Ecocide has not yet been accepted as an internationally punishable crime by the United Nations.

Concept

  • The concept of ecocide as an international crime originated in the 1970s after the use of Agent Orange by the United States during the Vietnam War devastated the local people and wildlife.
  • Rome Statute
    • Currently, there is only one provision in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, related to War Crimes, which explicitly mentions damage to the environment. Article 8(2)(b)(iv) makes it a crime too.
      • Intentionally launch 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 natural environment which would be excessive about the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated”.

Why Ecocide should be a crime? /Pros of such laws

  • More Accountability
    • By making ecocide a crime, individuals, corporations and states can be held criminally liable for their destructive anthropogenic environmental degradation and damage, that results in the irreversible transformation of natural environments.
    • Currently, there is a missing responsibility to protect both the Earth and humanity, which allows “state-sanctioned industrial and corporate immunity” for ecocidal acts.
  • An international crime against ecocide would force culpable CEOs and heads of state to accept personal accountability for ecocide and climate change, compelling them to consider the environmental consequences of their actions, even if and especially when there are transboundary effects.
  • A proactive approach to protect the environment
    • This proactive approach to preventing environmental disasters and their attendant human rights violations from occurring goes some ways to remedying the shortfalls of the international environmental law regime.
  • Normatively, listing ecocide as a crime against peace sets an ideological and “moral red line” for destroying the environment which perpetrators cannot fall below, even if they ultimately are not prosecuted by the ICC.
  • It is an expression of international intolerance and moral outrage towards ecocide and provides tools for lawyers and civil society to speak out against this unacceptable crime.
  • Moral Awakening-
    • It also accurately reflects the existential threat that ecocidal activities pose to the very existence of humanity, and underlines that we live in a state of emergency – with only 10 more years left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change – and are in dire need of what Pope Francis calls a “moral awakening.”

Limitations

  • Different opinions
    • No single but diverse opinions regarding the imposition of criminal law over ecocide.
  • David Whyte, the author of a book called Ecocide, warned that international law would not be a silver bullet that eradicates environmental destruction.
  • Corporate capitalism
    • Corporations cannot be prosecuted under international criminal law, which only applies to individuals as per the experts.
    • It’s really important to change our language and the way we think about what’s harming the planet – we should push through this crime of ecocide – but it’s not going to change anything unless, at the same time, we change the model of corporate capitalism.
  • Need to go a long way
    • While there is still a long way to go before ecocide could be recognised as an international crime, the movement continues to gather pace.
  • Political resistance is another big challenge.

Stand of ICC

  • The International Criminal Court has itself placed increasing emphasis on prosecuting environmental crimes within the limitations of its existing jurisdiction.
  • A 2016 policy paper on case selection highlighted the court’s inclination to prosecute crimes involving illegal natural resource exploitation, land grabbing and environmental damage.While this doesn’t change the status quo, it “could be regarded as an important step towards the establishment of a crime of ecocide under international law”,

Existing domestic ecocide laws

  • Several nations legislated against ecocide, though no international law against it could come into existence.
  • Vietnam is the first country to come up with a national ecocide law given its horrible experience in the Vietnam War, which devastated its environment.
  • Ten countries have codified ecocide as a crime within their borders during peacetime.
  • Those countries followed the wording of Article 26 of the International law Commission (ILC) Draft which referred to intentionally causing “widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment” within the context of war – bearing in mind that Article 26 was removed from the final draft submitted to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1996.
  • Georgia 1999
    • Contamination of atmosphere, land and water resources, mass destruction of flora and fauna or any other action that could have caused an ecological disaster
  • Armenia 2003
    • Mass destruction of flora or fauna, poisoning the environment, the soils or water resources, as well as the implementation of other actions causing an ecological catastrophe, is punished
  • Ukraine 2001
    • Mass destruction of flora and fauna, poisoning of air or water resources, and also any other actions that may cause an environmental disaster,
  • Belarus 1999
    • “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),
  • Ecuador 2008 (Constitutional), and 2014 (Criminal Code)
    • While Ecuador does not formally use the term “ecocide,” any intentional damage to the environment in either war or peacetime is classed as a criminal offence, and the country is the first in the world to make Nature a subject (rather than an object) of strong constitutional rights and guarantees.
  • Kazakhstan 1997
    • 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 is punished
  • Kyrgyzstan 1997
    • Massive destruction of the animal or plant kingdoms, contamination of the atmosphere or water resources, and also the commission of other actions capable of causing an ecological catastrophe.
  • Republic of Moldova -2002
    • Deliberate mass destruction of flora and fauna, poisoning the atmosphere or water resources, and the commission of other acts that may cause or cause an ecological disaster shall be punished.
  • Russian Federation 1996
    • Massive destruction of the animal or plant kingdoms, contamination of the atmosphere or water resources, and also the commission of other actions capable of causing an ecological catastrophe.
  • Tajikistan 1998
    • Mass destruction of flora and fauna, poisoning the atmosphere or water resources, as well as the commitment of other actions which may cause ecological disasters is punishable …”[69]
  • Uzbekistan 1994
    • 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.
  • Vietnam 1990
    • Those who, in peacetime or wartime, commit acts of as well as other acts of genocide or acts of ecocide or destroying the natural environment, shall be sentenced.

Indian Scenario

  • The recent natural disasters in quick succession, viz., the cyclone Amphan in West Bengal and Odisha, cyclone Nisarga in Maharashtra and the locust plague in western and northern India have left a very adverse impact on our ecology. They were all caused by climate change, according to scientists, for which it is the human society that is largely responsible.
  • In addition to the natural disasters mentioned above there have been a couple of cases of gas leakages, viz., LG Polymers gas leak in Vishakhapatnam and the OIL gas and oil leak in Baghjan Village, Assam.
  • The gas leak in Assam in this regard acquires special significance as it happened in a national park (protected area) and wetlands. This area is home to dozens of species of migratory birds, rare wildlife and aquatic life. Post-leakage the rivers contaminated with oil spill residue poisoned and suffocated the aquatic species of the wetlands. Several endangered birds and fish have been found dead.
  • Given the fact that almost entire India is badly affected by our constant assault on the environment, resulting in massive destruction and a colossal loss to our ecosystem, it is high time India came up with an effective ecocide law.
  • It must also display a strong will and commitment to prevent further loss and to mitigate the damages already caused to our ecology, by properly implementing that much-needed law, once it comes into existence.

Mains model question

  • What exactly do you mean when you say “ecocide”? Why do we need an ecocide criminal law? Consider the importance of it.

References