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Climate and conflict

Top lawyers call on ICC Prosecutor to prioritise ‘environmental atrocity crimes’
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Sunset behind barbed wire in Sudan

Today (26 October), an open letter from international environmental and human rights lawyers has urged the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to prioritise the prosecution of crimes against the environment in future cases.

The letter, authored by Richard Rogers, executive director of environmental justice NGO Climate Council, and Moneim Adam, director of Sudan Human Rights Hub, argues that despite possessing the legal means, the ICC has consistently overlooked cases of environmental atrocities.

The letter also encourages the ICC to take into consideration the ways that climate change and environmental destruction can act as a catalyst, creating new, and intensifying existing, conflict situations.

‘There is no doubt that climate change is having a compounding effect on many of the world’s existing conflicts. Increased competition for resources like fertile land and fresh water is already disrupting societies and uprooting entire communities. International law must keep pace with the ecological crisis if bodies such as the United Nations are to adequately prepare for and prevent potential future atrocities.

‘Climate change and ecological degradation must be given due legal consideration as the threat multipliers to international peace and security that they are. As such, it is essential to recognise ecocide as a crime in its own right, applying in both peacetime and conflict, as a more effective deterrent to severe and either widespread or long-term environmental harm.’

International Human Rights Lawyer and executive director of Climate Counsel

Recognising ecocide

Drawing on the ongoing conflict in Sudan, Rogers and Adam suggest the prosecutors office is failing to recognise the importance of environmental factors in its cases, with the crisis in Darfur arising ‘at least in part from climate change’.

One of the letter’s recommendations is for the prosecutor to ‘publicly support the amendment of the Rome Statute to include the international crime of ecocide’.

Ecocide refers to unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts. It is an approach which has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Richard Rogers, one of the letter’s co-authors, has been vocal about the importance of introducing ecocide to the remit of the ICC for multiple years, having worked with Stop Ecocide International to develop a proposed legal definition of ecocide.

‘We applaud Climate Counsel and Sudan Human Rights Hub for producing this open letter and wholeheartedly support what it says. It’s important that International laws take account of the actual conditions of the world in which those bound and protected by such laws exist. 

‘There is now a growing global movement, including voices such as Volker Türk, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, advocating for establishment of a standalone international crime of ecocide. This crime is designed to prevent and penalise the most severe harms against nature, providing for a swift evolution of our international legal framework and offering enhanced protection for both humanity and the planet. This transformation is becoming ever more crucial as we navigate a new reality shaped by ecological and climatic uncertainties.’

Executive director of Stop Ecocide International

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