Trial tests whether ‘ecocide’ could join genocide as global crime


Top lawyers put fossil fuel bosses on trial in the UK’s supreme court in a mock case to explore the crime of ecocide – environmental destruction – which is being considered by the UN

The extraction of oil from the tar sands of Alberta

The extraction of oil from the tar sands of Alberta is one case being considered for prosecution in a mock trial at the UK's supreme court. Photograph: Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis

It’s a grim list: genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression (such as unprovoked invasions) and war crimes. All are recognised by the UN as crimes against peace and prosecuted through the international criminal court.

But should the bosses of polluting companies and the leaders of environmentally-unfriendly states join those responsible for mass murder in the dock. They could if a fifth crime against peace – ecocide – joined that list of human evils? The United Nations is now considering the proposal and the first test of how a prosecution for ecocide would work takes place on Friday, with fossil fuel bosses in the dock at the UK supreme court in London. It is a mock trial of course, but with real top-flight lawyers and judges and a jury made up of members of the public. The corporate CEOs will be played by actors briefed by their legal teams.

The crime of ecocide is the brainchild of British lawyer Polly Higgins, who in her UN submission defined it as:

Ecocide: The extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.

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2 Responses to Trial tests whether ‘ecocide’ could join genocide as global crime

  1. Alan Burke says:

    5 Oct. 2011 update:

    “Update: Two verdicts of guilty, one not guilty: that was the conclusion of the mock ecocide trial (details below) held at the UK’s supreme court on 30 September. Real lawyers, judges and a public jury found the CEOs of fictional fossil fuel companies guilty of “extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) to such an extent that the peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory, and of other territories, has been severely diminished”, as a result of their company’s extraction of oil from tar sands in Canada. The jury found one of the CEOs not guilt on the count of damage caused by an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Polly Higgins, the driving force behind the trial and who is working to have ecocide join genocide and three other crimes against peace in the UN, said: “For me the trial was a moment of truth. No longer is it acceptable to pursue profit without consequence. Corporate Ecocide is a global crime that is far greater and far more prevalent that most people realise. Those few people who dare to speak up about Corporate Ecocide in Wall Street have been arrested for speaking out about a greater crime, a far greater breach of the peace than their own shouting and campaigning. Surely it is now the time to prosecute the true destroyers of our world.”

    She added: “I’m not keen to see lots of [people] in the dock. What I want to see is people making responsible decisions. For example, a crime of ecocide could force governments to change the incentive structures for businesses by redirecting subsidises for fossil fuels towards clean energy sources. In this way the dirty energy companies that are wrecking the environment today could be transformed into the clean energy companies of tomorrow.””

    More (Click here)

  2. Pingback: Ecocide Act–the next step toward international environmental protection? « Public Health Perspectives « Health and Medical News and Resources

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