Unlike humans, nature does not have a voice. It cannot voice its concerns for being mistreated, overused and abused and it cannot stop the harm it often undergoes; however, this may change soon. In April 2010, Polly Higgins proposed a law on ecocide to the UN Law Commission to stand alongside genocide as an international crime against peace.
Since then, Polly and her team have founded the Wish20 Global Citizens initiative to catalyze global momentum for an international ecocide law. Already the initiative has united governments, faith leaders and businesses with the common aim of holding those responsible for deliberate environmental destruction accountable to the law.
This is an urgent issue, particularly in the extractive sector where several countries are suffering from the disastrous consequences of ecocide, including severe human rights violations and wide spread poverty.
The Wiwa vs Shell case in Nigeria, comes to mind. A twenty year legal battle which in 2009 was deemed a triumph for the winning plaintiffs but has not resolved the consequences of Shell’s actions. There is still endemic poverty for the Ogoni people and complete environmental destruction in the Niger delta.
Another case is Chevron in Ecuador, where unparalleled evidence of environmental destruction matched by severe human rights implications to the indigenous Amazonians stand as witness to the consequences of ecocide. Chevron is refusing to pay for damages totaling $19 billion and the legal battle is still being fought today – twenty years on.
Even more worrying is the increasing arrogance of major extractive corporations, with revenues several times the budgets of host countries, which are filing lawsuits as intimidation tactics against human rights defenders and environmental organizations.
Could an ecocide law prevent environmental destruction in the future by holding individuals in corporations accountable for their actions?
On Saturday, 9 March, 2013, a forum on ecocide will be held at The 2013 Middle East Festival Forum on Ecocide, Culture and Peace. Polly Higgins and other panelists will be speaking about the progress of Ecocide Law in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Images of oil spills in Ogoniland, Nigeria from National Journal