Last week an ‘ecocide trial’ was held in London. The trial tested barrister Polly Higgins’ proposal for a crime of Ecocide – to hold to account directors of companies (rather than the company) who cause extensive damage to ecosystems to such an extent that the peaceful enjoyment of the inhabitants (humans and biodiversity) of the territory have been severely diminished.
Carine Nadal of the Gaia Foundation offers some reflections on the trial.
Ecocide could become a 5th crime against peace on a par with genocide of humans.  It would be a universal crime which could be tried anywhere, and one of strict liability.  Intention to cause damage would be irrelevant, Ecocide is a crime of consequence – the fact of causing extensive damage would be enough.  Ecocide would also impose superior responsibility – so directors of companies would be held accountable.
Polly is calling on the United Nations to adopt this proposal as early as 2012.  What is needed is an amendment to the Rome Statute by a 2/3rd majority (86 States).  For more information see
The Hamilton group and other organisations organised this inspiring and mobilising event. For more information about the event see:
Thanks Polly, Simon and all involved for this important contribution towards Thomas Berry’s call to transform our laws (and governance systems) from human to Earth-centred, for the health and integrity of the whole Earth Community.
The trial revealed the following:
Urgent need for a crime of Ecocide  to hold accountable companies destroying Earth
If companies engage in potentially damaging activities, then the responsibility and onus is on them to prevent damage.  Where damage does occur companies should do all they can to mitigate and redress the harm done to all species.  Polly argues that a crime of Ecocide would bring about a  shift in consciousness.  Polly sees the potential for companies to change and do good for the public benefit.  The trial did highlight the importance of how we define Ecocide and how companies could get round it by showing a lack of evidence that they caused the damage.  Thanks to the mock trial, Polly will be re-drafting the proposed Ecocide crime to tighten any loopholes.
A  precautionary  approach is needed
If scientific evidence that damage will occur is lacking, this should mean we take preventative action, rather than going ahead with potentially damaging activities.  An emerging challenge is fracking e.g. in Nigeria.  Nnimmo Bassey (Head of Friends of the Earth International and winner of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award) and others are campaigning for ‘leaving oil in the soil, coal in the hole and tar sands in the land’.   (On 26th September, Nnimmo gave a talk at the Gaia Foundation Learning Centre about ‘Justice for the Earth Community: Defending the Rights of Nature and holding Corporations to Account’, and shared stories of oil spills in Nigeria and the Gulf of Mexico.  A transcript and podcast of the Gaia evening will be available soon.)
Lawyers and legal system need to become eco-literate
The limitations of the current legal system were clear.  Law tends to take a narrow, reductionist snap-shot rather than a holistic, interconnected and long-term approach.  Law requires proof of causation – evidence that the person caused the damage. For example the defence argued that the charge of Ecocide in this instance would be the death of birds landing on the toxic Tar Sands ‘ponds’ – not the death of birds and other species caused by the leaching of the toxic water into surrounding ecosystems or the wider destruction of their forest habitat to make way for Tar Sands development .  There is no account of the interconnectedness of life or future generations.
To ensure justice for the whole Earth Community – lawyers should learn how our Earth functions and become eco-literate in reading Earth’s laws, limits and processes.  Ecology is not/rarely an option in legal education.  In the meantime, there should be more dialogues and collaboration between eco-literate communities, Gaia scientists and resilience practitioners so that legal arguments are based on reality and laws of the Earth.
Urgent need to recognise the rights of Nature
Earth has no/ a small voice in the court room.  Currently there are few representatives or guardians of Earth to voice the interests of Earth in court.  Decisions affecting the Earth Community are made remotely in a court room, miles away from the destruction.  it also became clear that recognising a crime of Ecocide is not enough. If a company director were not found guilty of Ecocide and destruction of ecosystems then potentially there would be no justice for Earth and her communities.  We also need to recognise the inherent rights of Nature, enforceable by communities and guardians in court e.g. Ecuadorian Constitution.  The crime of Ecocide and rights of Nature are complementary.
Sign the petition to call on your Government to endorse the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth. We need 1 million signatures by Rio +20, June 2012.
We are all complicit in consuming oil, which has devastating impacts
The defence argued that the company director was being used as a ‘scapegoat’ for the sins of society.  There was recognition during the event that we are all complicit in depending on oil for food and most activities.  We have a responsibility to stop consumption and shift towards less destructive forms of energy.  Michael Mansfield QC (lawyer for the prosecution) highlighted that ‘we are all trustees of the planet’ ‘We need to say I played my part and responsibility.’
There is a growing social movement for justice for the Earth Community
As Gandhi said we need to be the change we want to see in the world.  There are inspiring and positive actions around the world e.g. practices of the African Biodiversity Network ( and Community Ecological Global Alliances.  We need to unite in solidarity and advocate for the rights of Nature and uphold our responsibilities of trusteeship to the present and future generations of the whole Earth Community.
You can also join the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature.  There are almost 1000 signatures from around the world.  Do sign up!  Especially to the working groups e.g. ancestral wisdom.
See the six-minute ‘trailer’ video at