Since the 1970s, the possibility of internationally criminalizing ecocide has been widely discussed, for example as a war crime, a form of genocide, a crime against humanity, or a fifth international core crime.
However, there are numerous challenges, both theoretical and pragmatic, associated with any such criminalization, and with the concept of ecocide in itself. While ecocide has yet to be recognized officially as an international crime, it is firmly established in the public vocabulary for discussing the unfolding environmental crises with severe ecological consequences such as large scale pollution, rapidly disappearing rainforests, and the mass extinction of species.
The concept of “ecocide”, including its legal manifestation, implies a form of intentionality (recklessness) and culpability. At the same time, the kind of violence that ecocide denotes is often diffuse and delayed, thereby challenging established notions of cause and effect, agency, and responsibility.
Furthermore, these environmental harms cut across national and international boundaries, which raises problems of jurisdiction and standing. They also cut across conceptual boundaries, such as those between nature and society, human and non-human, foreign and domestic.
These challenges have contributed to the difficulty of defining ecocide as a crime within existing juridical frameworks and institutions, such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Ecocide raises fundamental questions regarding the way we think about guilt, liability and the duty of care. How do we determine who is responsible and how do we hold them to account? How do we acknowledge human and non-human victims? What is the power of a legal concept such as ecocide? And how do we, or should we, balance ecological and socio-economic considerations?
In addition to the theoretical and legal challenges, ecocide also presents a fundamental representational challenge: how do we make visible and understandable to a broader public what ecocide is? What role can the cultural arena play and how can artists, writers, and filmmakers raise public awareness about ecocide? Conceptualizing ecocide calls for an approach that cuts across academic disciplines.
The aim of this project is to bring together researchers from across the university and stakeholders and organizations beyond the university, whose work touches on any aspect of the problem of ecocide and its legal, ecological, scientific, political, sociocultural, criminological, philosophical, and historical dimensions.
This project has three aims:
- Utrecht Knowledge Hub on Ecocide.
Scientific knowledge development through inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations is crucial to understanding the concept of Ecocide, identifying its elements, as well as determining how to prevent and respond to it. This project will build on the interdisciplinary research on Ecocide at Utrecht University to build a Knowledge Hub on Ecocide. This project rejects the anthropocentric and dualistic thinking of nature and society as separate and independent, and instead embraces critical biocentric, ecocentric, and non-Western ontologies. Ecosystems, plants, and non-human animals will be approached as having an intrinsic value, rather than the (perceived) value they may (not) have to humans. Each discipline contributes with their expertise to provide a strong theoretical basis on the different elements and their integration of Ecocide. Key scientific outputs will be published in a special issue. Moreover, by directly involving societal stakeholders (e.g., Stop Ecocide NL; IUCN NL), results will be disseminated beyond the academic sphere.
- Mock trial
Mock trials (simulations of a legal trial using real examples) will serve as experimental and creative test setting to integrate the insights generated in the Knowledge Hub on Ecocide. Specifically, we will test the arguments and definitions, and experiment with artistic forms of representation and alternative conceptions of justice and testimony that can account for the human and non-human victims, the interconnections between different histories of violence, and their long-term and cross-generational legacies. The mock trials will be co-developed in close collaboration with student teams, with scriptwriter and theater director R. Noordzij, as well as our societal partners. We envision a broad audience that includes scholars, students, stakeholders, policymakers, and the general public. In this, the mock trial will allow us to provide empirical evidence on the extent to which the conceptualization raises awareness of the complexity and urgency of ecocide.
- Policy briefs
Policy briefs aim to provide interdisciplinary guidance to key institutions responsible for overseeing the criminalization of environmental damage. The briefs will be submitted to (i) the International Criminal Court (ICC); (ii)) the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE); (iii) the Parliament of the European Union (EP); (iv) the Parliament of the Netherlands. Project. Our project members already have relationships with these institutions, which are currently engaging with ecocide: The Assembly of States Parties to the ICC has debated the crime of ecocide; PACE has invited Member States to criminalize ecocide; the EP supported the inclusion of ecocide in the EU’s revised environmental crime directive; and a member of the Dutch Party for the Animals has proposed a bill to criminalize ecocide in the Netherlands