Ecocide, the fifth international crime

Sep 08, 2021 | written by:

An environmental NGO is calling for the crime of “ecocide” to be introduced so that acts causing “severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment” can be tried by the International Criminal Court.

What is ecocide?

The NGO Stop Ecocide Foundation proposes the definition of “ecocide” as 

unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.


Homepage Stop Ecocide International

The definition was drafted by twelve legal experts from around the world: the hope is to create a usable mechanism with which to hold the “big polluters”, including world leaders and large corporations, accountable for their actions.

If adopted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, ecocide would become the fifth crime prosecuted by the court, alongside war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression.

What is the International Criminal Court?

The International Criminal Court is competent for four very serious crimes affecting the international community: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.


From the official website of the International Criminal Court

Even though there are many limitations to its influence:

  •     it can only try crimes committed since 2002;
  •     it can only rule on crimes within its competence;
  •     it can only rule if the perpetrator of the crime is a citizen of one of the 123 countries that signed its founding treaty, or if the crime occurred in the territory of one of these 123 countries.

The ICC still has an important bearing on the international community, which is why adding ecocide to its list of crimes could help raise public awareness.

Why is there a need for an ecocide law?

While similar crimes already exist in many legislations (in Italy, for example, the crime of environmental disaster has existed since 2015), approval of this definition would mark a turning point, opening up the possibility for nature to legally count as an internationally protected entity.

On 20 July this year, France passed a law on the environment and climate that contains the term ecocide, while Pope Francis has called on the international community to recognise ecocide as a fifth crime against peace.

Punishing those responsible is an important deterrent but it is also vital to take action on other fronts, by supporting sustainable development projects that can become a valid alternative to models which impact the environment too negatively. Planting trees in agroforestry systems does exactly that. Find out how our projects benefit the environment and the people who live there.



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