Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 27 - December 2022 عربى
Terminology Corner

Ecocide

In early December 1961, immediately after President John F. Kennedy authorized herbicide operations, the US military retrofitted C-123 transport aircraft with fixed-wing spray mechanisms at U.S. Air Force bases. Although the term “chemical warfare” became a contentious issue in the latter part of the decade, when antiwar and environmental protestors merged to denounce the “ecocide” of Vietnam and the dubious legality of Operation Ranch Hand in light of the Geneva Protocol of 1925.

Speaking at a Washington conference in February 1970, Yale University plant biologist Arthur Galston offered the word “ecocide” to describe the environmental harm that defoliating US aerial bombings inflicted upon South Vietnam, in particular, using Agent Orange, an herbicide produced by nine US chemical companies since the 1940s. Ecocide has since become known, most generally, as destruction of the natural environment by deliberate or negligent human action.

For the purpose of a proposed amendment to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that those acts could cause substantial harm to likelihood or severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment.

The proposed amendment to the Rome Statute includes a legal definition of ecocide and would add ecocide as a new crime to the Rome Statute, the Independent Expert Panel for the

Legal Definition of Ecocide recommends addition of a preambular paragraph 2 bis with the following amendments:

“Concerned that the environment is daily threatened by severe destruction and deterioration, gravely endangering natural and human systems worldwide,”

Addition to Article 5(1) (e):

The crime of ecocide.

Addition of Article 8 ter Article 8 ter:

Ecocide

1. For the purpose of this Statute, “ecocide” means 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.

2. For the purpose of paragraph 1:

a. “Wanton” means with reckless disregard for damage {that] would be clearly excessive in relation to the social and economic benefits anticipated;

b. “Severe” means damage which involves very serious adverse changes, disruption or harm to any element of the environment, including grave impacts on human life or natural, cultural or economic resources;

c. “Widespread” means damage [that] extends beyond a limited geographic area, crosses state boundaries, or is suffered by an entire ecosystem or species or a large number of human beings;

d. “Long-term” means damage [that] is irreversible or [that] cannot be redressed through natural recovery within a reasonable period of time;

e. “Environment” means the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, as well as outer space.[1]


[1] Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide, “Commentary and Core Text,” June 2021, p. 4, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5ca2608ab914493c64ef1f6d/t/



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