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10.12.2018 :70th Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights – British Barrister calls for new Criminal Law to protect People and Planet

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British Barrister calls for new Criminal Law

to protect People and Planet

COP negotiations cannot address climate breakdown until

Ecocide is recognized as an international crime.”

On the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, British Barrister, Polly Higgins says it’s now time for a new Criminal Law of Ecocide to protect the rights of the Earth. As COP24 negotiators squabble and fail to accept the recent IPCC report that they themselves commissioned, Ms Higgins proposes a more muscular approach to the global environmental crisis.

COP negotiations cannot address climate breakdown until Ecocide is recognized as an international crime”, Ms Higgins told her audience at the Hague Talks in the Netherlands, held to mark the Anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration.

Speaking at the Hague Peace Palace, Miss Higgins said, “Today we celebrate not just the rights but also the responsibilities of governments to protect the most important right of all, the right to life. Looking forward, not just to the next 70 years, but the next 700, even 7000 years, we must ask: how do we ensure the responsibility to protect the Earth’s right to life and the right to life of all who live on it, human and non-human?

Climate negotiations cannot do this, but criminal law can. By outlawing ecocide, we steer in a new direction, where the governing principle is ‘first do no harm’. Without this one law, we cannot hope to protect our one Earth or navigate our way through the unprecedented environmental crisis we face.”

Ms Higgins is not afraid to walk her talk. Last Thursday, her non-profit organisation Ecological Defence Integrity launched an independent Preliminary Examination into climate ecocide in the Hague at a special event accompanying the annual Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court, to examine whether a full investigation would be justified if ecocide crime were to be put in place. Ms Higgins even named key suspects – Dutch climate minister Eric Wiebes and Shell CEOs Ben van Beurden and Marjan van Loon.

I look forward to publicly reporting our findings,” said Ms Higgins. “If the evidence shows that continuous industrial activity known to adversely affect climate breakdown has been permitted, then both the Dutch government Minister and Shell’s senior officers could be held responsible for pervasive impacts on the world’s population at large, including the systemic and widespread collapse of ecosystems.”

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court, that has jurisdiction over Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Crimes of Aggression. Ms Higgins proposes that Ecocide should become the fifth Atrocity Crime. The Head of State of any member of the International Criminal Court has the power to propose such an amendment.

At last week’s Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court support for Climate Ecocide to be identified as an Atrocity Crime under International Law came from Vanuatu. H.E. Mr. John H. Licht, Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary to the Kingdom of Belgium and the European Union stated that climate-change related disasters in the Pacific islands result in atrocities that must be monitored by the international community.

“Climate change related disasters are killing an ever-growing number of people in our region and worldwide. As a result of global warming our region witnesses cyclones of unprecedented intensity, exceeding our coping capacity.

“We already see parts of our traditional lands being swallowed by the sea, we see corals dying as a result of ocean acidification and warming, and we face increasingly harsh weather conditions that are unknown to us, and hostile to our traditional way of life. The root causes of climate change – resource exploitation at alarming rates and massive clearance of natural forests – also have spill-over effects on our water catchment sources and ecosystems. 

“The resulting atrocities need to come under careful watch of the international community, especially where national environmental laws and basic human rights are blatantly ignored by multinational firms that have no concern for our environment or the dignity of our people. In sum, we need to open our eyes to what is happening, for example in our neighbourhood where mass ongoing exploitation of natural resources is intertwined with a slow genocide of the people who have ancestral ties and DNA to these resources.


For more information or interview with Polly Higgins please contact Dana Amma Day PR

T: +44 7742 449395 E: danaammadaypr@gmail.com

Full details, high res pics and all related press releases at www.earth-law.org/climatecrime_pr

The ongoing Preliminary Investigation can then be viewed online at www.earth-law.org/climatecrime

  1. Hague Talks event 10th December, livestream link here: https://www.pscp.tv/HagueTalks/1OdJrRdgRDwJX Polly Higgins scheduled to speak 17:55 local time (16:55 GMT)

  2. Ecocide is “loss or damage to, or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory(ies), such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.” Climate ecocide is one variant of ecocide crime.

  3. Polly Higgins, former practising barrister and international ecocide law expert, is the founding co-director of Ecological Defence Integrity, providers of support & legal expertise for climate vulnerable States. Author of 3 books, her first Eradicating Ecocide won the Peoples Book Prize in 2011. VPRO (Dutch BBC) featured a documentary about her work, called Advocate for the Earth.

  4. BBC: COP24 fails to adopt iPCC report https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46496967

  5. Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute, any individual, group, or organisation seeking a prosecution of a potential ICC crime can submit evidence to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC. Before an investigation can be opened, the ICC prosecutor is responsible for determining whether a situation meets the legal criteria laid out by the Rome Statute.

  6. Preliminary Examinations

  7. Launch of Independent Preliminary Examination, Shell CEOs named suspects at special event on 6th Dec 2018 in conjunction with 17th Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court

  8. Amendments to the Rome Statute Amendments to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court must be proposed, adopted, and ratified in accordance with articles 121 and 122 of the Statute. Any state party to the Statute can propose an amendment

  9. Vanuatu has recently announced its willingness to use international criminal law to hold fossil fuel companies accountable, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/22/vanuatu-says-it-may-sue-fossil-fuel-companies-and-other-countries-over-climate-change

History of ecocide crime: Ecocide existed in earlier drafts of the Rome Statute as a stand-alone crime. In 1996 all aspects of ecocide/environmental crime were removed from the Draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind (subsequently renamed the Rome Statute). In 1996, Article 19, ‘International Crimes of State’, of the draft Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts was also removed. In 2010 Polly Higgins submitted a fully worked legal proposal of ecocide law into the United Nations Law Commission.