UN: Ecocide was to be the 5th Crime Against Peace

A groundbreaking discovery; the crime of Ecocide was for decades included by the UN as the fifth Crime Against Peace.

Imagine my surprise when a journalist called me to ask for my comment on the news that a law of Ecocide had been considered to be an international crime over 15 years ago. All he had was one document that referred to 3 countries who had objected to it being included as Crime Against Peace. This one document took Dr Damian Short of the School of Advanced Legal Studies Human Rights Consortium at University of London on a paper trail with a team of his students. They unearthed written documentation and evidence of the history of Ecocide Law spanning the past 40 years.

Today we now have a paper trail that takes us back to 1972. The call to make Ecocide an international crime was, we discovered, nothing new – over 7,000 people took to the streets in Stockholm in 1972 to demand that Ecocide be a crime. It was the time of the Vietnam War and world leaders had met in Stockholm to resolve environmental issues at an international level for the first time. At the same time, The People’s Forum brought together some of the top experts of the day to discuss Ecocide. A draft Ecocide Convention was submitted into the UN in 1973, a direct outcome of the Stockholm conference.

Fast forward a decade; 1985 saw the flame of the Law of Ecocide burn brightly again. Most significantly was the draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind (precursor to the Rome Statute) which included Ecocide. For a further 11 years the United Nations partook in concerted debate, discussion and research.  What happened next is set out in the research paper Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace.

Launched 19th July 2012 by The Human Rights Consortium at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London, The Ecocide Project will continue to unravel the question as to why the Crime of Ecocide law was shelved. The report draws attention to the preamble of the draft Ecocide Convention, where there is the explicit recognition that Ecocide is not always a crime of intent – and that Ecocide is caused in both times of war and peace.

These are words that have just as much relevance today as they did when they were written in the draft Ecocide Convention in 1973:

Man has consciously and unconsciously inflicted irreparable damage to the environment in times of war and peace.

Like the name of the research paper suggests – Ecocide is the missing 5th Crime Against Peace –  when we outlaw mass damage and destruction, the missing 5th crime is put back in its rightful place, as an international Crime Against Peace.