Since 2019, a very diverse group of diplomats, politicians, lawyers, corporate leaders, NGOs, indigenous and religious groups, influencers, academic experts, grassroots campaigns, and individuals from several countries have united around a common purpose: to make ecocide an international crime. In line with legal advances, political pressure, and public narrative, they are part of a global movement that has grown tired of watching governments and companies circumvent national legislation and make decisions that affect the climate and the planet as a whole.
After six months of work, a panel with leading criminal and environmental lawyers from around the world came up with a legal definition to propose an amendment to the Rome Statute, the document that governs the International Criminal Court. “It is a concise and powerful legal definition that has been disclosed to the states”, says Britain’s Jojo Mehta, who coordinates the movement.
Invisible Amazon: So, is the goal to criminalize the destruction of the global ecosystem?
Jojo Mehta: It is more than that, because creating a crime at the highest level, at the international level, sends a very strong message to the kind of cultural mindset and to people’s perception of what is acceptable and what is not. Because that is one of the things we use criminal law for: we use it to draw moral lines. So, in a long-term sense, we believe that this particular effect is perhaps the strongest of all. It will start to change the ways in which people think about our relationship with nature and our responsibility towards it.
Invisible Amazon: How soon can this typification of ecocide as an international crime be adopted?
Jojo Mehta: We know that trying to do this overnight will not work, but at the same time the UN and scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade. Before 2030, the whole planet, our whole civilization must essentially change the direction we are in, so that we can prosper in the future. So, we estimate a period of four to five years for this law to be effective, to gather the states behind it, but also for the corporate world to see this coming and for policymakers to have a chance to implement transition policies, and for business leaders to assess compliance paths. So, yes, there is an urgency, but at the same time, it requires a period to make it concrete.
Invisible Amazon: In your opinion, would the crime of ecocide apply to the current situation in Brazil?
Jojo Mehta: I think it could be highly appropriate, and I think it’s a matter of criminal law being able to isolate a decision or an act, or an omission that leads directly, or may be leading, or even making substantially susceptible to be leading to serious destruction. And I think, in Brazil’s case, there is definitely potential for this to apply in the circumstances of the country. We are looking at a level of crime that has to be considered at an international level, so it has to be serious, and it needs to extend over time, over area, over space, and so on. But certainly, in the context of the lungs of the world, as the Amazon is called, we could definitely be looking at ecocide being applied to situations in Brazil.
Invisible Amazon: How would this effectively work? Would Brazil be prosecuted?
Jojo Mehta: International crimes apply to individuals, which means human beings. It does not apply to governments, it does not apply to corporations. And the beauty of it is that many of those who make the decisions that lead to serious environmental destruction are currently able to hide behind the corporate veil in their own countries, even if they are high up in the political pyramid. So they can often be exempt from certain types of law, and so there is a degree of impunity. What this typification can do is remove this impunity so that individuals are not immune to the international criminal law. So it is created a degree of personal criminal responsibility, but also a sense of going to the top, going to the controlling minds in any situation. Just as with genocide, you don’t prosecute infantrymen, you prosecute the controlling minds. This is how it would work.