By Shuma Talukdar
There are four crimes against peace mentioned in the Rome Statute, 1998, which came into force in 2002. These crimes are Genocide, under Article 6; Crime against Humanity, under Article 7; and War Crime and Crime of Aggression, both under Article 8 of Part II. The fifth crime that should have ideally found mention in it is Ecocide. Ecocide is defined as “extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.” The definition incorporates damage caused by individuals, corporations, and nations. It also includes destruction caused from sources other than human activity. The purpose was to create a sense of duty to care for environment, to mitigate the damage already caused and to prevent the occurrence of natural disasters. It also aimed to create a sense of criminal responsibility for human-caused ecocide.
The history of ecocide dates back to 1970 when it was recorded in the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington, proposed by Professor Arthur W. Galston. The term was subsequently recognised at the UN Stockholm Conference 1972 (first conference for drawing international attention on environmental issues). The conference was expressly focused on environmental degradation and trans-boundary pollution. Attention was primarily given to trans-boundary pollution as it does not recognise political or geographical boundaries and can affect inhabitants from multiple nations. However, the official outcome document of the conference did not have any reference to ecocide.
Several nations legislated against ecocide, though no international law against it could come into existence. Vietnam is the first country to come up with a national ecocide law given its horrible experience in the Vietnam War, which devastated its environment. In December 2019, the island nations of Vanuatu and Maldives reminded the international community of the long existing demand for an Ecocide law. The recent natural disasters in quick succession, viz., the cyclone Amphan in West Bengal and Odisha, cyclone Nisarga in Maharashtra and the locust plague in western and northern India, have left a very adverse impact on our ecology. They were all caused by climate change, according to scientists, for which it is the human society that is largely responsible. In addition to the natural disasters mentioned above there have been a couple of cases of gas leakages, viz., LG Polymers gas leak in Vishakhapatnam and the OIL gas and oil leak in Baghjan Village, Assam, which have very adversely affected our environment and ecology.
The gas leak in Assam in this regard acquires special significance as it happened in a national park (protected area) and in wetlands. This area is home to dozens of species of migratory birds, rare wildlife and aquatic life. Post-leakage the rivers contaminated with oil spill residue poisoned and suffocated the aquatic species of the wetlands. Several endangered birds and fish have been found dead. A sticky layer of oil has formed on tree leaves in the national park and endangered Gangetic river dolphins have been found dead in large numbers. The leakage has also affected thousands of human habitats.
Given the fact that almost entire India is badly affected by our constant assault on environment, resulting in massive destruction and a colossal loss to our ecosystem, it is high time India came up with an effective ecocide law. It must also display a strong will and commitment to prevent further loss and to mitigate the damages already caused to our ecology, by properly implementing that much-needed law, once it comes into existence.
Shuma Talukdar is a lawyer. She holds professional membership of the Supreme Court of India, the Bar Council of India, and the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law, Government of India. Views expressed here are the author’s own.
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