County Sustainability Group Ecocide on Trial

Ecocide on Trial

Polly HigginsIt goes without saying that criminals will continue to endanger human life and destroy ecosystems at will unless they are brought to justice using criminal law.

Next June, Heads of State gathering in Rio for Earth Summit 2012 will be asked to endorse Ecocide, the environmental equivalent of genocide, as the 5th International Crime Against Peace alongside Genocide itself, Crimes Against Humanity, Crimes of Aggression and War Crimes.

London barrister Polly Higgins will propose that under the new law Heads of State and Directors of Corporations will be required to take responsibility for their actions. Those in a position of superior responsibility for their business activities which impinge on the environment would have a pre-emptive legal duty to prohibit profit arising from activities that cause mass damage, destruction or loss of ecosystems. In other words, the merchants of death will no longer be able to hide behind a corporate or legislative shell, invisible to the law.

Higgins defines Ecocide as “"the extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by humanagency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished."

But how would the law work? Is it legally possible? Will it have more negative effects than positive? Would the Alberta Tar Sands mining, destruction of the Amazon rainforest, or oil spills be classed as Ecocide? Who would be the individuals prosecuted under this proposed law? Could Banks be culpable as well if they provide funding for activities prosecuted under Ecocide? 

On September 30th 2011, London’s Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will be the venue for a Mock Trial, played out as though the crime of Ecocide had already been adopted.
The case will be based on facts taken from an amalgam of real events.  An imaginary Chief Executive will be on trial alongside a fictional Banker charged with aiding and abetting the alleged crime. A Judge will preside over the Court with practicing barristers acting for the Prosecution and the Defence. Expert witnesses, such as Vandana Shiva, one of the world’s leading environmental activists, will provide evidence and a Jury will decide the outcome.

The trial will be open to the public and will have full media coverage. It will be filmed and streamed live to social network sites. Edited versions of the event will be available for international, national and local television, radio and other media outlets and for public and private screenings.

What effect would the law have on the environment and businesses and the people who run them? An ecocide law “could have a profound effect, both on how we think about the natural world, and how businesses, governments and institutions assess risk management when it comes to environmentally damaging practices.”
This mock trial could become the defining trial of the 21st century.

Head on over to Crowdfunder to help make the mock ecocide trial a reality. This article was based on Crowdfunder’s Ecocide and Trial information document found at You need to be logged in to view the document.

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—Ron Hart is a member of the County Sustainability Group

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