A Law for Human Rights

Ecocide is a Human Rights Issue

Humans have a right to life, but where our life is put at risk of injury or harm we are owed a duty of care. Destruction of our Earth can and does have huge implications for humanity, both now and in the future. What we decide to do now to stop significant harm is a humanitarian issue.

The right to life is the most important human right of all; all of our rights are set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With rights come responsibilities. To date, we have not fully codified what our duties and obligations are. For example, many of our resources are being destroyed without looking to the consequences. The knock-on impact for the health and well-being of our lives is the biggest human rights issue of the 21st Century. our well-being is inherently linked to the well-being of the Earth: environmental damage and destruction impacts our ability to access resources such as food and water that are essential for our very survival. Humanity’s right to life is under threat. Destruction of the Earth can and does lead to instability and conflict – and sometimes war.

When our human right to life is at risk of harm on a global scale, we have an over-riding responsibility to put a law for life first. This is why we created the international crime of Genocide. Now we understand that destruction of ecosystems can also lead to severe consequences which place our human right to life at risk. Human-caused Ecocide can and does lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, resource depletion, biodiversity loss and atmospheric instability – all of which have wide-scale, long-term and/or severe consequences for humanity.

Ecocide is a crime against humanity as a whole, affecting current and future generations. However, the greatest impacts are felt by some of the world’s most vulnerable people. It is a crime which has no boundaries and its affects are felt globally.

A Law of Ecocide Creates a Safe and Just Space for Humanity

A recent report “A Safe and Just Space for Humanity” examines our challenge for the 21st century; how to eradicate poverty and achieve prosperity within the means of the planet’s limited natural resources. How to live without threat of harm or risk to our lives is a security issue; when our planetary boundaries are pushed to their limits, our lives and the lives of other species are put at risk.

A Law of Ecocide creates an international framework prohibiting humans from causing harm on a global scale. It is a law that ensures the peace and security of humankind. Creating an international obligation that protects our human right to life within an ecological context expands our cycle of concern. Our relationship with the Earth is just as important as our relationships with each other.

The term ‘Ecocide’ is not new. Ecocide was drafted as a Crime Against Peace in the draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind. The Code later became known as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998. However, Ecocide was excluded from the final document. You can read about the history of the crime of Ecocide in the report “Ecocide is the Missing Fifth Crime Against Peace” by the University of London’s Human Rights Consortium, who have now launched the Ecocide Project – a two year academic research into the history of the law of Ecocide.

Ecocide law is a law for life

Cultural Ecocide: Awa Tribe

The Awa Tribe located in the remote Amazon region of Brazil, is the world's most threatened indigenous group. With approximately 355 people, they are one of only two nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes remaining in the Amazon. Their survival relies solely on the biodiversity of the rainforest which is quickly being destroyed for industry. Government action has been slow to stop illegal logging in the region and the lives of the remaining Awa are continuously threatened. While Ecocide poses a threat to physical survival due to the inherent lack of food and water in some regions, it also impacts on the cultural survival of others. For example, the Mikisew Cree First Nation, an indigenous tribe of Canada, are facing cultural destruction as a result of the expansion of the tar sands in Alberta. Forcible relocation would interrupt their traditional way of life; unable to hunt their traditional quarry or crow the same crops, they face cultural destruction – a cultural Ecocide.

A Legal Duty of Care: Small Island States

Small Island States, such as the Maldives, are currently facing a unique threat: as sea-levels rise islands are being washed away and hundreds of thousands of people shall be left homeless. Security risks include rises in fatalities due to catastrophic events,  relocation issues and refugees. However, owing to inadequacies in international and refugee law, environmental refugees are currently offered no protection under international law. Ecocide law puts in place a legal duty of care thereby ensuring that all nations that are signatories put the interests of the Non-Self Governing Territories first. Ecocide law provides the necessary legal protection that is currently missing.