Ecocide Law sits at the heart of an emerging body of law called Earth Law. Earth law puts people and planet first, and ensures the well-being of the whole Earth community. Earth Law recognises that the Earth has natural limits and boundaries, and it is for us to ensure the well-being of the whole Earth Community by putting in place laws that protect future generations.
Earth law is an expansion of our collective responsibilities and duties. Earth law encompasses governance of indigenous rights, Earth rights, rights of nature, rights of future generations and rights of the displaced. Often, Earth law is simply balancing the scales of justice by building on existing laws and universal principles based on trusteeship.
One area of law that applies trusteeship is childcare provisions, where we put the interests of the child first. Under trusteeship law principles, the welfare of the beneficiaries comes first. As such, where children are traded or harmed we view that as a crime. The purpose of creating laws that put the interests of the child first is to govern our relationship between ourselves as primary carers and the children we have in our care. In law, the word ‘care’ brings with it duties and responsibilities. A ‘legal duty of care’ refers to the sanctity of the relationship between the the trustee and the beneficiary – as opposed to one party putting self-interest first.
The concept of ‘care’, in law, is relationship based, not ownership based. A law of Ecocide creates a legal duty of care – a duty owed collectively to both the Earth and humanity. Under Ecocide law, any territory at risk of or suffering significant harm shall be assisted first and foremeost from a place of trusteeship. The primary determinant is what assistance is required, not how much it will cost (you can read more about Ecocide law and the use of the United Nations Trusteeship Council in Chapters 5 & 6 of Eradicating Ecocide). The failure to act or give assistance can give rise to the commission of the crime of Ecocide.
The term Earth Law has evolved from cultural historian Thomas Berry’s vision of ‘Earth Jurisprudence’, which many indigenous peoples and local communities have been practicing for centuries.
The Earth Law network
There is a growing network called the Earth Law network which is made up of a number of organisations, communities, individuals, and alliances working towards advocating and practicing Earth Law. This includes the Earth Law Alliance, the Australian Earth Law Alliance, the the Gaia Foundation, African Biodiversity Network,
Read some more about the history of Earth Law.
Community Bill of Rights
While a law of Ecocide is an example of International Earth Law, there are examples of Earth Law happening at local levels too. Community Bills of Rights have been pioneered in the US by the Community Environmental Legal Defence Fund (CELDF) in recent years. They are local laws to elevate the rights of communities and nature above corporate rights, and they have proved effective in empowering communities to allow them to determine whether corporate developments, such as fracking, can proceed.
Community Bills of Rights are an example of bottom up legal systematic change. Where communities feel that their voices are not being heard Community Bills of Rights redirect rights, so that people and planet are put first. This has parallels in successful rights based movements like the abolitionists and the suffragettes.
In the UK, communities can be empowered in the same way as has happened under a Community Bill of Rights in the US. Community Chartering in the UK is now emerging. You can read more at communitychartering.org
In the UK, a Community Bill of Rights changes the legal framework in two fundamental ways:
- it enshrines the right to local community self government by giving the local people the right to decide what happens in their communities;
- it recognise the rights of nature. By identifying that nature has intrinsic value, and is not merely property a Community Bill of Rights is an example of Earth law which complements and supports law to eradicate ecocide at the international level.