INSIGHT by Stop Ecocide International (SEI)
Following a historic unanimous Legal Affairs Committee vote, the European Parliament has announced its support for the inclusion of “ecocide” in the EU’s revised environmental crime directive.
Last Tuesday, 21st March, the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs unanimously voted for the most serious environmental crimes – widely known as “ecocide” – to be condemned under EU law¹.
On March 29, via announcement at a monthly plenary session, the European Parliament officially declared its support of the inclusion of ecocide-level crimes into the European Union’s revised Directive on protection of the environment through criminal law.
“It is greatly encouraging that the European Parliament is taking the concept of ecocide seriously. As with genocide and crimes against humanity in 1945, the global community is today faced with a new kind of threat: severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment, of a kind that breaches existing legal obligations and corresponds to the emerging concept of ecocide. This is a most significant first step, as the EU seeks to play a leadership role in taking the region and the world to a more benign environmental future.”
-Prof. Philippe Sands KC, international lawyer and writer, Co-chair of the Independent Expert Panel² for the Legal Definition of Ecocide
“The ecological situation of the planet is beyond critical. A new legal age is needed. The European Parliament has had the clarity to understand this by committing the Member States to recognise ecocide. Each state must now decide on where they stand. We said that another Europe is possible. Well, here is the proof that the fight of the Greens is paying off. We will do everything to consolidate this victory and make it effective. Ecocide is an essential and revolutionary legal tool for the protection of the environment.”
-Marie Toussaint, MEP (Greens/EFA)
“It is timely and wholly appropriate for the EU Parliament to support inclusion of ecocide-level crimes into the revised Directive on protection of the environment through criminal law; we congratulate the Parliament on its approval and believe this step could herald a historic turning point in our relationship with the planet. The EU Parliament has today shown leadership, foresight and, indeed, solidarity with the many vulnerable nations and communities suffering the effects of ecocide. We trust that all EU agencies will recognise this text for the gift that it is and welcome it into EU law.”
-Jojo Mehta, Executive Director, Stop Ecocide International
The proposed text uses language extremely close to the consensus international definition of ecocide (June 2021) proposed by the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation. A specific definition for the “gravest crimes” is included, taking into account the conditions for harm used in the IEP draft: “severe and either widespread or long-term or irreversible” (with the corresponding definitions of those terms* also closely following those used in the IEP draft). The proposal mandates member states to ensure that those gravest crimes are sanctioned accordingly in their legal systems.
The word “ecocide” is specifically used in the recital** (preamble) of the proposed Directive, where it is linked to the same conditions of severe and either widespread or long-term or irreversible damage.
This is the first time that such a definition has been included in a legislative text at the European level. The final stage for “ecocide” to be definitively recognised in European law will be agreement from the European Council and the European Commission on the Parliament’s proposed position. Over the coming months, representatives from each of the three institutions will engage in a consultation process known as “trilogue³” negotiations.
Recognition of “ecocide” at the level of the European Union would be globally significant: all EU Member States would be required to transpose the creation of this new crime into domestic legislation and, with EU States making up over 20% of States Parties to the International Criminal Court, it would be a decisive step towards international recognition of the crime of “ecocide”.
| Article 2 (definitions)
“Severe”, for the purpose of Article 3 paragraph 1a, means damage which involves very serious adverse changes, disruption or harm to any element of the environment, including grave impacts on human life or natural resources;
“Widespread” , for the purpose of Article 3 paragraph 1a, means damage which extends beyond a limited geographic area, crosses state boundaries, or is suffered by an entire ecosystem or species or a large number of human beings;
“Long-term” , for the purpose of Article 3 paragraph 1a, means damage which cannot be redressed through natural recovery within a reasonable period of time;
| Article 3 (offences)
Member States shall ensure that any conduct causing severe and either widespread or long-term or irreversible damage shall be treated as an offence of particular gravity and sanctioned as such in accordance with the legal systems of the Member States.
**Recital (with ecocide)
When an environmental criminal offence causes severe and either widespread or long-term or irreversible damage to the quality of air, the quality of soil or the quality of water, or to biodiversity, ecosystems services and functions, animals or plants, this should be considered a crime of particular gravity, and sanctioned as such in accordance with the legal systems of the Member States, covering ecocide, for which the United Nations are currently working on an official international definition.
Stop Ecocide International (SEI) is the driving force behind the growing global movement to make ecocide an international crime. Our core work is activating and developing global cross-sector support for this. We collaborate with diplomats, politicians, lawyers, corporate leaders, NGOs, indigenous and faith groups, influencers, academic experts, grassroots campaigns and individuals to this end.
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