Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Ecocide Trial - coming soon

During my Swarthmore Lecture, Costing Not Less Than Everything (and in the book, p.46) I discuss briefly the concept of Responsibility to Protect (known as R2P). This is part of a United Nations Human Rights initiative. At present it stipulates that
The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
In my lecture I suggested that Quakers, building on our long-standing support for, and engagement with, the United Nations might start a movement to add a fifth item to this list: 'crimes against the environment'.

I now discover that this is underway, with a very imaginative, high-profile and eye-catching campaign.
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The Ecocide Trial

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
30 September 2011

The Hamilton Group is a not-for-profit organisation encouraging businesses, organisations and communities to bring responsibility for the Earth to the forefront of their decision-making. They are a growing network of individuals, businesses and organisations that have adopted their Ethos as part of their values They invite everyone to take responsibility for their communities, organisations, businesses and the the human-made and natural world by signing up to their Ethos and joining them in this Mission.

The Ecocide Trial is the next event of the Hamilton Group. What follows is adapted from their website.
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"Once upon a time people did grievous harm to the environment without fully understanding the consequences of their actions. That defence is no longer available, and that sure knowledge we now have entails equally sure moral obligations. In this context, the idea of establishing the crime of Ecocide is both timely and compelling."
Jonathon Porritt, former Chair, Sustainable Development Commission
"In these days when the human impact on the environment is becoming everyday more evident and proves to be not only damaging to our surroundings but a serious threat to human life and survival, it is imperative that we should declare Ecocide a Crime Against Peace. The Club of Budapest is happy to endorse this initiative and is committed to following it up to the best of its abilities and potentials."
Ervin Laszlo, President, Club of Budapest  
It has been proposed that Ecocide, the environmental equivalent of genocide, becomes the 5th International Crime Against Peace alongside Genocide itself, Crimes Against Humanity, Crimes of Aggression and War Crimes.

The new law has been proposed to the UN by British Environmental Lawyer, Polly Higgins who proposes that under the new law Heads of States and Directors of Corporations be required to take individual and personal responsibility for their actions.

On September 30th 2011, London's Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will be the venue for a Mock Trial, played out as though the crime of Ecocide had already been adopted.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have shown us the unstoppable power of nature. There is little we can do to protect against these events but we can take responsibility for our own actions and their effect on the Earth.

One of these actions could be to create an international law on Ecocide, the environmental equivalent of genocide. This law would establish the requirement of heads of states and corporations to take individual and personal responsibility for their actions. What will this mean in practice? Is it legally possible? Will it have more negative effects than positive? Would the Alberta Tar Sands mining, destruction of the Amazon rainforest, oil spills, the threatened existence of the low-lying Maldive Islands because of rising sea-levels, the Pacific Gyre, the island of garbage twice the size of Texas slowly spinning in the Pacific Ocean, be classed as Ecocide? Who would be the individuals prosecuted under this proposed law? Could Banks be culpable as well if they provide funding for activities prosecuted under Ecocide? In reality, what effect would the law have on the environment and businesses and the people who run them?

Polly Higgins, the British barrister and international environmental lawyer, proposed to the United Nations in April 2010 that a law on Ecocide to be classed as an international law alongside Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, Crimes of Aggression and War Crimes, as a 5th Crime Against Peace. If Ecocide is accepted as a crime under international law it will have a profound effect on Governments, Heads of State, Corporations and those who run them, and on the ecosystems of the Earth.

Ecocide is defined as:
"the mass damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished."
The Trial
The Ecocide Trial is a mock trial, will last one day and follow UK court procedures.

Michael Mansfield QC, the prosecuting barrister, and Nigel Lickley QC, the defence barrister together with supporting legal teams, will lead the case for and against a fictional Mr X, CEO of a major corporation. Before the case is heard, legal argument will be put as to whether Ecocide and the Earth Right to Life should be applied to the charge against Mr X. Mr X will be played by an actor and has been charged with a number of ecocides - which one will be tried will be determined on the day. It could be:

Deforestation of the Amazon
Arctic drilling
Fracking for shale gas in Nigeria
Major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
Bauxite mining of the Niyamgiri mountain
Unconventional tar sands extraction in Canada
Deep sea mining of the Central and Eastern Manus Basin

The trial will examine how the crime of Ecocide protects the Earth Right to Life and will be tried as though the proposed crime of Ecocide has been adopted by the UN.

What will happen is not pre- scripted; it is ultimately for the jury to determine whether the crime of Ecocide is made out and whether the Earth Right to Life is breached.

The trial will be the focus for a sustained campaign to raise awareness of the issues around Ecocide and to have them debated and discussed fully within Government, business, communities, the media, universities and schools, nationally and internationally.


It will be filmed and streamed live to social network sites. Edited versions of the event will be available for international, national and local television, radio and other media outlets and for public and private screenings.

The Witnesses
We are in discussion with a number of experts in relevant fields. Their names will be announced nearer the date of the Trial.

The Lawyers
Prosecuting team
Leader: Michael Mansfield QC, Tooks Chambers
Kirsty Brimelow QC, Doughty St Chambers
Junior: Steven Powles, Doughty St Chambers

Defending team
Nigel Lickley QC, 3 Paper Buildings Chambers
Adam Hiddleston, 3 Paper Buildings Chambers

All lawyers are giving their time and expertise free.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
The Hamilton Group is using the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in London as the venue. This in no way implies endorsement by the Supreme Court of the opinions raised in the trial or the verdict reached by the trial jury.
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Watch a video about ecocide.
For more information, or if you want to support this event in any way, please contact the group direct.
To donate to The Ecocide Trial please use CrowdFunder or PayPal.

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