An expert panel of top international and environmental lawyers have begun working this month on a legal definition of “ecocide” with the goal of making mass ecological damage an enforceable international crime on par with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Assembled by the Stop Ecocide Foundation at the request of several Swedish parliamentarians, the initiative to criminalize the destruction of ecosystems at the global level has already garnered support from European countries as well as small island nations highly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

The drafting panel is co-chaired by Philippe Sands QC, a professor at University College London, and Justice Florence Mumba, a former judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The November 20 launch date of the project coincided with the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders, where the terms “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” were coined.

“The time is right,” Sands said recently at an event commemorating the Nuremberg trials, “to harness the power of international criminal law to protect our global environment.”

“Seventy five years ago, ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’ were spoken for the first time, in Nuremberg’s Courtroom 600,” Sands added, “and my hope is that this group will be able to draw on experience since that day to forge a definition that is practical, effective, and sustainable, and that might attract support to allow an amendment to the ICC Statute to be made.”

Charles Jalloh, a professor at Florida International University and member of the United Nations International Law Commission who is on the panel drafting a legally robust definition of ecocide, said that “states should use all tools at their disposal, including their criminal law power at the national and international levels, to protect our shared global environment and to bring the most responsible perpetrators to justice.”

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