“For the lawyer as well as the soldier, there is an equally imperative command. That duty is to shelter from injustice the innocent, to protect the weak from oppression, and when necessity demands, to rally to the defense of those being wronged.”
Attributed to Captain Frederick Aiken from his closing remarks in the trial of Mary Suratt, 1865
In 2018 the word “ecocide” meaning “destruction of the natural environment of an area, or very great damage to it.” was added to the Cambridge Dictionary. Later that year it was one of four candidates for Cambridge’s “Word of the Year.”
As early as 1972 Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme used the term to describe, among other horrors, the use and effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. At the Stockholm Conference for the Human Environment at which he spoke Indira Gandhi and others demanded that “Ecocide” be designated an “international crime.”
The Rome Statutes (1985 – 1996) recognize four major classes of international crime: crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and aggression.
Drafts of the Rome Statute included the “Crime of Ecocide” but the terms were dropped, over the objections of more than 40 countries.
The Rome Statute also created the International Criminal Court in The Hague to try those accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and aggression when other courts were unable to do so. The United States did not ratify the treaty.
In 2016 the ICC reported that “it would give special consideration to pursuing crimes involving environmental destruction and land grabs” thus empowering the court to chase down criminals, including government, businesses and other international operations involved in “environmental damage or the misuse or theft of land as crimes against humanity.”
One source noted hopefully that “Company bosses and politicians complicit in violently seizing land, razing tropical forests or poisoning water sources could soon find themselves standing trial in The Hague alongside war criminals and dictators.”
At press time millions of young people all over the world were joining together in the largest mass protest of governments’ lack of action in the effort to save the planet from human-driven climate change.
The demonstrations took place around a United Nations special session on Action to address climate change, a session notable so far for the complete absence of contributions by the United States.
Indeed, our President and Senate are seen around the world as among the greatest obstacles to progress . . . opinions not surprising in light of the President’s outspoken “non-belief,” his withdrawal from all international obligations such as the Paris Accords, his gutting of federal regulations and agencies like the EPA, and most recently, his efforts to block states from imposing their own regulations to protect the environment, even if (or perhaps especially if) those regulations set higher-than-federal standards.
Metaphorically what’s going on under Trump is a crime.
Perhaps “to shelter from injustice the innocent, to protect the weak from oppression, and when necessity demands, to rally to the defense of those being wronged” laws against variations of the crime of Ecocide should be passed at the local, state, federal level here, as well as at the UN. Indeed, that may be the only way to hold the guilty to account . . . and save the planet.