Ecocide

Polly Higgins in ‘Towards A Garden Of Eden’ [ewl, 305-312] lists the four crimes (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression) that the International Criminal Court (ICC–which is for individuals, not the International Court of Justice–which settles disputes between nations) recognizes and adds a fifth: ecocide. The need for an international court for the first four came out of the atrocities of World War Two; the need to resolve issues of ecocide internationally came later, at the close of the twentieth century.

Ecocide can be caused by either natural events, such as earthquakes, or human events, such as climate change. Ecocide can be international. Ecocide is often closely followed by war. Higgins observes that colonisation, formerly by nation-states, is ‘very much alive’ by corporations in their fight for dwindling resources. She writes: ‘this is the reality of colonisation in the twenty-first century; it is no longer confined to the enslavement of people but the enslavement of the planet.’

Ecocide is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely): ‘A pending UN report,’ Higgins writes, ‘puts the conservative cost of global ecocide by the world’s top firms at $2.2 trillion [which makes DU seem like peanuts, except that DU is a symptom of ecocide] in 2008, a figure bigger than the national economies of all but seven countries in the world.’ Yet, ecocide is presented by Higgins as an individual’s crime, which she proposes should be handled by the ICC. She hearkens back to the Nuremberg Trials, which noted that ‘crimes against international law are committed by men [sic, though Laurie Brown, host of CBC’s ‘The Signal‘, wonders why it’s principally men and not women who are the aggressors], not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced.’

By defining and specifying ecocide, Higgins hopes to amend the Statute of Rome and include ecocide as a crime against peace under international law in the ICC. Without such recgnition it remains a ‘silent, faceless, and ignored’ crime–such as Canada’s Tar Sands. Recognition will give it ‘both voice and a route to prevention, restoration and remedy. More importantly it sets the legal requirement for states and corporations to take individual and collective responsibility.’ Knowledge may be power, but it also carries ‘a legal duty of care’, writes Higgins. ‘The failure or omission [to not act wisely] would be an abrogation of our responsibilities.’

In case you haven’t noticed, the Olympics are on in London. But like MJ’s death, they’re unavoidable. Colonisation starts with the mind. Why do you think there are so many ads on tv? Unbelievably, while the feds allow, even promote, tar sands development which kills people and other life, the environment isn’t even on the public’s radar. Last year it was Kate this, William that; this year it’s all about Lord Of The Rings in London; what’s it gonna be next year? Or in 2014? Or 2020? Or 2030? Or 2525? Or 3535? Or…. You get the idea. Don’t you? (Remember this protest from the ’68 games?–thanks, S.) Anyway, I can write what I want about this–it’s a free country, said my father (he should know; he grew up in Hitler’s Germany); besides, seems hardly anybody cares–they’re all watching the Olympics without protest. Sometimes it seems we’re playing the fiddle while Rome burns. Genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression still continue. However, they are now legally recognized as crimes to which Higgins wishes to add ecocide. A thousand mile journey begins with one step, said some guy long ago and far away….

My specific concern (I have general concerns too which apply to many essays) with Higgins’s piece is that, while more than imposing pecuniary fines, this still seems like retributive justice, not restorative justice, though she calls this ‘restorative justice’. What does she mean? I am thinking of indigenous restorative justice.

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