A rising number of nations are mulling about the possibility of passing legislation that would make ecocide a criminal offense.
Mexico is the most recent nation in which politicians have proposed criminalizing environmental damage as a means of discouraging its occurrence and obtaining justice for those who have been harmed by it. Karina Marlen Barrón Perales, a congresswoman for the state of Nuevo León, has introduced a bill to the Mexican congress that would establish “ecocide” as a new criminal offense.
In spite of the fact that causing damage to the environment is already considered a civil offense in the vast majority of countries, the recognition of ecocide raises the most heinous incidents to the status of a crime, along with the associated punishments.
“any unlawful or wanton act committed with the knowledge there is substantial likelihood of severe as well as either widespread or long-term damage to the environment” would be considered a crime under the proposed new legislation in Mexico, which seeks to criminalize such behavior. If the bill is approved, those found guilty of ecocide could face up to 15 years in prison and a daily fine of up to 1,500 pesos, which is equivalent to £70.
A definition of ecocide that was prepared by an international group of legal experts in 2021 is used in the law that is being considered in Mexico. The primary objective of the Stop Ecocide Foundation was to have the concept accepted by the international criminal court as part of a modification to the Rome statute; nevertheless, it is now also being utilized for legislation at the national level.
Ecocide has only been made a crime in a select few countries around the world, including Vietnam, the Ukraine, and Russia. As a result of Russia’s breach of the Nova Kakhovka dam, the public prosecutor in Ukraine has already opened an investigation into a probable case of ecocide against Russia.
In 2021, France made history by becoming the first country in the EU to criminalize ecocide; nevertheless, the legislation’s phrasing is not as stringent as activists had hoped it would be. Currently, the courts are deliberating on a test case that involves hazardous chemicals.
Other nations, including the Netherlands, have also presented drafts of laws that are quite similar to this one. While the Catalan parliament is leading efforts to criminalize ecocide within the larger Spanish penal code, the Belgian government is getting ready to put the finishing touches on its own version of the law.
Monica Lennon, a Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament, is attempting to establish legislation to criminalize ecocide and will have a public consultation on the topic later this fall.
In June, the political party PSOL presented an ecocide bill to the congress of Brazil, a nation in which the destruction of the Amazon rainforest has been referred to on multiple occasions as a criminal offense.
According to Rodrigo Lledó, director of Stop Ecocide Americas and a member of the panel that defined the definition of ecocide, the law proposed by Brazil was the first of its sort in Latin America to legally enter a national legislative chamber. Other nations in the region, such as Argentina and Chile, have also made it clear that they are becoming increasingly interested.
Lledó emphasized that all of these proposed laws still need to be approved by the parliament, and very few of them have the backing of the party now in power. “But it is important that people are speaking about it and that some new bills are coming up,” he said. “Both of these things are happening at the right time.”
Earlier this year, when the Icelandic parliament was investigating whether or not the country should recognize ecocide, the prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, told members of parliament that her administration was “very closely” following the work that was being done on an international legal framework on ecocide.
She stated that it was “only a matter of time” before this issue became the most pressing concern in the field of human rights, despite the fact that it would be “complicated to implement.”
The legislative assembly of Council of Europe passed a resolution in January urging all of its member nations to amend their legal systems so that ecocide might be formally recognized as a criminal offense.
After another two months, the European Parliament voted in favor of including crimes on par with ecocide in the updated environmental crimes regulation of the European Union. If this is able to make it through the EU’s entire legislative process without being amended, then all member states will be compelled to declare ecocide a crime under their own national laws.
The co-founder & executive director of Stop Ecocide International, Jojo Mehta, stated that there has been a significant increase in interest in the concept of criminalizing ecocide over the past few years.
She is of the opinion that the fact that the legal definition is so wide and focuses more on the effects on the environment than it does on particular activities has been very beneficial. “It appears to have landed fairly nicely politically since it is not pointing the blame at any one particular industry or any one particular corporation.
“It also makes it kind of future proof, because one of the tragic things about our attitude toward extracting from the planet is that we can never quite tell from one year to the next what dastardly results you’re going to get.”
The Mexican government is facing criticism for its massive Maya railroad project, which threatens Indigenous villages and has the potential to cause major environmental harm. In response, the government has decided to criminalize ecocide in Mexico.
Congresswoman Barrón Perales, whose PRI party is presently in the opposition, asked her fellow legislators to adopt the new bill so that they could stop ignoring the harm that is being done to Mexico’s environment. “The moment has come to take action and call attention to these loopholes in our laws so that [these damaging activities] be punished with the seriousness that they rightfully deserve. They should not be allowed to continue getting away with it.”
Mehta, who has been fighting for many years to get the international criminal court to identify ecocide, stated that she used to worry that domestic legislation would be a distraction from this greater aim. Mehta has been working to persuade the international criminal court to recognise ecocide.
“But in point of fact, it would appear that they are mutually reinforcing one another. Instead of coming up with brand new transgressions, the overarching goal of international criminal law is to bring the gravest existing transgressions to the attention of the world community. And as a growing number of national governments begin to broach the subject of ecocide, a growing number of states are beginning to take notice at the international level.