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Ecocide at the criminal court

con STOP ECOCIDE ITALIA ed esperti

22 ott 2022

How  is the crime of ecocide defined? What can we expect from the worldwide  attempt to make it an international crime under the International  Criminal Court and what major changes could it prompt? These and other  questions were tackled last Thursday in a Hikma Workshop organized in  collaboration with the association Stop Ecocidio Italia.

Last week Hikma organised the workshop “Ecocide at the International Criminal Court: a new international crime?” in collaboration with Stop Ecocidio Italia.  We had the pleasure to host guests such as Professors Emanuela Fronza  and Adán Nieto Martín to describe Ecocide in juridical terms. As this  experience has come to an end, we would like to share some thoughts from  the insights we received at the conference.

During her intervention,  University of Bologna’s Associate Professor Emanuela Fronza dealt with a  challenging query about the appropriate tools for codifying enforcement  measures against the crime of ecocide. Indeed, a well-articulated legal  system should include the definition of applicable sanctions. As she  claims in a thoughtful paper,  the international legal community doubts as to whether international  criminal law can fulfil this role or whether it should be assisted by  international economic law. Reflection ensues on the best method of  accountability, since in ecological matters there is a shift towards new  legal entities, or to say big corporations are deemed as perpetrators  and Nature becomes the injured party. To date, criminal law has  struggled to identify the penalties to be enforced against economic  macro-agents.

Moreover, the problem concerns the intentionality of the misconduct, as a matter a criminal must foresee and intend the act in order to be criminally charged. In this sense, ecocide  lawyers would like to admit a broader conception of intent, with an  opening to dolus eventualis. As follows, the agent would be pursuing another primary goal, but in doing so he would allow himself the possibilityof  conducting the crime and nevertheless pursues the conduct anyway.  However, in order to meet this need, international penal law experts  argue that it is primarily required to precisely establish a common and  widespread understanding of ecocide.

A striking point that was  brought up by the Spanish Professor Adán Nieto Martín is the limitedness  of a merely retributive approach. Arguably, some of the most impressive  achievements that have made the history of the International Criminal  Court have come from application of retributive justice procedures that  were tailored to specific situations. Prosecuting cases of ecocide, as  explained by Nieto Martín, cannot and should not have as a main goal the  simple application of a punitive approach targeting a few individuals  responsible: it should always aim at the repair of the damage and must  take into account corporate responsibility in order to become not only  fairer, but also more effective. In an extremely interesting essay  published last year [contribution into a publication, downloadable here],  Nieto Martín goes through the two main necessities listed above and  deepens the argument exposed during this week’s workshop by addressing  the importance of the attention to the victims. In other words, the  punishment for the crime (whether it is a fine or any other of the  possibilities envisioned by the author in the paper) must not affect the  capacity of the prosecuted ones to both “pay back” the victims and  begin a step-by-step process to repair the damage.

“We are glad we have  reached the primary goal of our activity: to involve the younger  generations in the debate on the importance to stop long-lasting  phenomena such as the most serious environmental crimes. The development  of an interactive section of the workshop has provided the students  with the possibility to confront a case of ecocide and thus directly  approach on a legal perspective a matter that will be dealt with in the  future, with their generation on the front line”.

Dani Spizzichino, Stop Ecocidio Italia

“We at Stop Ecocidio  Italia believed it is important to stress the key points of the Ecocide  debate, most notably the failures of the existing legal structure to  adequately deal with the climate and ecological crisis. Remaining  cognisant of potential obstacles, we stressed that while there is no  optimal legal solution in resolving climate change, the powerful  momentum of the Ecocide movement across Europe and beyond was promising  in the potential of criminal law’s role. As we argue, the implementation  of this law at international and national level isn’t relevant only in  the creation of a new crime, but in changing the assumptions and  principles that underlie the current legal framework”.

Anna Maddrick, Stop Ecocidio Italia

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