Context: Mexico is the latest country to consider passing a law to make ecocide a crime.
- It is human impact on the environment causing mass destruction to the environment.
- It is defined as “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”.
- It is also refer as killing one’s home or environment refers to acts like port expansion projects, deforestation, illegal sand mining, polluting rivers and releasing untreated sewage, etc., that destroy fragile natural ecosystems and local livelihoods.
- Commonly cited examples of ecocide include; deforestation during the Vietnam War, the destruction of the environment during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, deforestation in Indonesia and the Amazon rainforest, oil pollution in the Niger Delta and the Chernobyl disaster.
- The term was popularised by Olof Palme when he accused the United States of ecocide at the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment.
- There is no international law against ecocide that applies in peacetime, but the Rome Statute makes it a crime.
- The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) deals with four atrocities: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The provision on war crimes is the only statute that can hold a perpetrator responsible for environmental damage, but only if it is intentional and in wartime.
Need for criminalising ecocide
- Over a third of the earth’s animal and plant species could be extinct by 2050. Unprecedented heat waves have broken records worldwide. Changing rainfall schemes have disrupted flood and drought patterns.
- Deforestation of the Amazon, deep-sea trawling or even the catastrophic 1984 Bhopal gas disaster could have been avoided with ecocide laws in place.
- Ecocide laws could also double up as calls for justice for low- and middle-income countries disproportionately affected by climate change.
Global status of ecocide laws
- It is a crime in 11 countries, with 27 others considering laws to criminalise environmental damage that is wilfully caused and harms humans, animals, and plants.
- Countries that have criminalised ecocide include Vietnam, Ukraine, Russia etc.
- The European Parliament penalise “mass destruction of flora and fauna”, “poisoning the atmosphere or water resources” or “deliberate actions capable of causing an ecological disaster.
India and Ecocide
Some Indian judgments have affirmed the legal personhood of nature by recognising rivers as legal entities with the right to maintain their spirit, identity, and integrity and some others have used the term ‘ecocide’ in passing but the concept hasn’t fully materialised in law. Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, and the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act (CAMPA) 2016, as well as separate Rules to prevent air and water pollution.
- In Chandra CFS and Terminal Operators Pvt. Ltd. v. The Commissioner of Customs and Ors (2015), the Madras High Court noted: “the prohibitory activities of ecocide have been continuing unbridledly by certain section of people by removing the valuable and precious timbers”.
- In an ongoing case, T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union of India & Ors, the Supreme Court called attention to an “anthropogenic bias” and argued that “environmental justice could be achieved only if we drift away from the principle of anthropocentric to ecocentric”.
- Challenges: The National Green Tribunal, India’s apex environmental statutory body, does not have the jurisdiction to hear matters related to the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, the Indian Forest Act 1927, and other State-enacted laws.
- Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill 2023 and Biodiversity (Amendment) Bill 2023, which experts have said will dilute current legal protections and will lead to the loss of 20-25% of forest area in the country and the attendant biodiversity and ecosystem issues.
- One critical challenge is to tackle problems of liability and compensation an example of the friction between committing to environmental protection and actual action. For example, survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster are still fighting for compensation.