Ecocide may soon become the fifth core international crime, after an international panel of lawyers reveals a statute definition of the word.

Currently, there are four core international crimes, which are defined and dealt with by the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC). They are genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression (intentionally causing a state of war). For almost 50 years, those concerned about rapid industrial progress have lobbied for ecocide to be added to the list. It would be the only crime on the list which does not have obvious human harm as a prerequisite for prosecution.

The Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide, 12 lawyers from eight countries working for the Stop Ecocide Foundation have spent six months conferring with experts to prepare the 165-word definition, the very most basic foundation of such a change.

Their proposed draft defines ecocide 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.”

For the proposed definition to become a part of the Rome Statute, there are four further steps to pass:

  1. One of the 123 member-countries of the ICC would have to submit the definition to the UN as a proposal.
  2. A majority of the ICC must vote to consider the proposal at their annual assembly.
  3. The proposal will go through amendments (this step would be predicted to take years), and a final draft must pass with a 2/3 vote.
  4. The vote is ratified and member countries are given a year to begin enforcement.

“We don’t see any likelihood of it disappearing,” said Jojo Mehta, chair and co-founder of Stop Ecocide. “The likelihood is it will actually get proposed. However, even if it takes longer than we would like … just the fact that this conversation is happening is already making a difference.”

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