From oil spills to open-pit mining, clear-cut logging to heavy-net trawling, humans continue to scar the planet despite mountains of legislation, regulation and good intent.
Some environmental lawyers want to make destruction of an ecosystem an international crime — “ecocide” — on par with genocide or war crimes. Past attempts were stymied by the challenge of defining what would constitute a crime. But amid rising concern about climate change, a new definition has been published that could make ecocide the first new crime added to international law since 1948.
1. What is ecocide?
The term was coined in 1970 by Arthur W. Galston, an American biologist. It’s derived from the Greek oikos, meaning home, and the Latin caedere, meaning to demolish or kill.
In 1972, then-Swedish Premier Olof Palme used the word in reference to the U.S. having sprayed the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover and crops for enemy troops. Since then, there have been several attempts to codify ecocide into international law, as genocide was following World War II.
Ecocide was included in the early drafts of the Rome Statute, the document adopted in 1998 that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). That’s the permanent, independent tribunal, based in The Hague, that’s designed to hold accountable those who commit genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
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