This is part 1 in a series of articles in connection with our upcoming Plastic Health Summit. On October 21, we are hosting speakers from around the world in Amsterdam; these speakers will look at the plastic issue from a variety of angles, including health, environment, criminal justice, human rights, EU policy, and activism. Today: ecocide.
11 October 2021
Some people touch your soul. Such a person, for me, is Scotland’s, Polly Higgins. One day Polly, who worked as a lawyer, looked out the window during a trial while waiting for the judges, and pondered: like my client, the earth has been badly injured, and the earth deserves a good lawyer too.
It was a thought that would change her life. She quit her job and sold her house to enable her to start defending the earth. When she spoke at a lecture in 2009 about the rights that should apply to the earth, someone in the audience said, “To put the massive destruction of the earth into words, we need a new language.” Higgins calls that moment her eureka moment, and she immediately realized that that all-encompassing term had to be “ecocide”.
Criminalizing ecocide would become her life’s work, and she managed to inspire countless parliamentarians, ecologists, artists, and other advocates. In 2010 she defined the already in 1970 by Professor Galston coined term ‘ecocide’ at the UN Law Commission as the large-scale loss and damage or destruction of ecosystems of a particular area, such that the quality
of life of its inhabitants is seriously affected. When Pope Francis called for ecocide to be made a crime in November 2019, he referred to her definition.
The International Criminal Court (ICC)
In 2017, Polly Higgins and Jojo Mehta founded the organization Stop Ecocide International. In January 2021, the European Parliament voted for a resolution to have ecocide – alongside genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression – recognized as the fifth crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Commissioned by the Stop Ecocide organization, a panel of twelve highly reputable international criminal and environmental lawyers from around the world then drafted a new legal definition of ecocide.
Salient detail: on the initiative of Olof Palme, then Prime Minister of Sweden, crimes against the environment were indeed included in a draft of the Rome Statute, the founding document of the International Criminal Court. Yet they were removed from the draft law in 1996, a year and a half before the final Rome Statute was signed. Polly Higgins said she knew why: in the UN archives, she had found documents that indicated behind-the-scenes lobbying by the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.
Unfortunately, Polly Higgins did not live to see the latest developments. She passed away on April 21, 2019, at age 50. A few weeks earlier, George Monbiot wrote this article about her in The Guardian.
Her friend and co-founder of the Stop Ecocide Foundation, Jojo Mehta, will be attending our Plastic Health Summit on October 21 via online speech submission. We are extremely proud of that and grateful for her participation!
Communication Manager Plastic Soup Foundation
Also see: TedTalk by Polly Higgins
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