Asser Institute panel explores ecocide at the Third International Conference on Environmental Peacebuilding

Published 19 June 2024

@Edward Kimmel - Wikimedia Creative Commons - Protesters during a climate march. 

Today, the Asser Institute, in cooperation with the University of Amsterdam, will convene a panel discussion titled ‘Ecocide: Should Harm to the Environment be Criminalized?’ at the Third International Conference on Environmental Peacebuilding in The Hague. The panel will explore the pros and cons of adding ecocide, the so-called fifth international crime, to the Rome Statute to help protect the environment.

Co-hosted by the Environmental Peacebuilding Association and Leiden University’s Grotius Centre, this week’s Third International Conference on Environmental Peacebuilding brings together scholars, practitioners, activists, and students from over 90 countries to explore environmental peacebuilding strategies. The Asser Institute is one of the sponsors of the conference.

During the event, the Asser Institute, in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam, will host the panel ‘Ecocide: Should Harm to the Environment be Criminalized?’. Speakers include Christophe Paulussen (Chair, Asser Institute), Laura Burgers (University of Amsterdam), Merle Kooijman (University of Amsterdam), Stavros Pantazopoulos (Asser Institute & University of Helsinki), and Niki Siampakou (Asser Institute & ICCT). 

Environmental protection as a core value
The proposed crime of ecocide, defined by the Independent Expert Panel of the Stop Ecocide Foundation in 2021 as "unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”, seeks to elevate environmental protection to a core value.

This potential addition to the Rome Statute, alongside existing international crimes like genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression, would ignite a new chapter in international law, sparking further debate among legal experts and civil society organisations. The idea of criminalising ecocide is not new, as it first emerged during the Vietnam War. Interest in it, though, has fluctuated over time. Today, the concept is gaining traction, with several states enacting national ecocide laws and advocating for its inclusion as an international crime under the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction.

Pros and cons of criminalising ecocide
Drawing from their upcoming publication ‘Ecocide: criminalising harm against the environment’ (T.M.C. Asser Press / Springer Verlag), the Asser Institute’s panel will explore the pros and cons of including ecocide in the Rome Statute. The discussion will explore the history of the term and recent efforts to define the crime. It will also address the less-discussed aspects of criminalising ecocide, such as its connection to the rights of future generations, the importance of an eco-centric approach, the identification of perpetrators and victims, and potential reparations.

Read more
[Interview] Asser researcher Stavros Evdokimos Pantazopoulos: 'Ecocide carries a symbolic value'
The screening of environmental hazards in Ukraine confirms that war is toxic to the environment. The Russian military, for instance, recently attacked a tank of nitric acid that released a fume of toxic smoke. Russia’s full-scale invasion also threatens the nuclear and chemical waste in Chernobyl and Donbas. In this interview, Asser research fellow Stavros Evdokimos Pantazopoulos discusses the application of environmental law in armed conflict. “Current international legal frameworks have the potential to enhance environmental protection in times of conflict, either from the international humanitarian law (IHL) side or from the environment law side. Nevertheless, we still see that the political will is missing.” Read more.

[Video] Environmental harm and international criminal law
With the threat of anthropogenic harm becoming clearer each year, it is imperative to explore legal means to tackle serious damage to the environment. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has signaled that it will place emphasis on prosecuting the most egregious incidents of environmental destruction. Experts have suggested adding the crime of ecocide to the court’s statute. However, the ICC is subject to jurisdictional limits that restrict its ability to adjudicate ecocentric cases. How can we use judicial proceedings to establish responsibility for serious environmental harm (including ecocide) under international criminal law? Watch now.

This project is part of the Asser Institute research strand 'In the public interest: Accountability of the state and the prosecution of crimes', which examines the accountability of states in light of public interest standards in the context of counterterrorism. Moreover, this strand looks into the prosecution of individuals for international and transnational crimes in the public interest. To ensure both the accountability of states and the prosecution of individuals for international and transnational crimes in the public interest, this research strand also investigates the role of journalists, digital media, human rights NGOs, and academics in protecting and promoting public interest standards.