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Conceptualizing Ecocide

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.

Challenging established notions

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.

Crossing boundaries

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.

Seeking answers to fundamental questions

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 ecocide visible and understandable to a broader public? 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.

Ecocide Project Team

Gathering Knowledge

This project aims to bring together researchers from across the university and stakeholders and organizations outside 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.

Structure of the Project