Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Ecocide Trial - what happened?

Back last September, I posted here about the upcoming Ecocide Trial. Since then it's happened, of course, and received some good publicity.

Simon Hamilton, originator of the idea of the Trial, writes below about the outcomes so far. Simon has worked as a Chartered Accountant in industry and in private practice, set up and run secondhand bookshops, crewed hot-air balloons and worked in the voluntary sector heading up fundraising teams for major charities. He set up Three Hands in 1998, devising and managing fundraising and leadership development programmes in the UK, Uganda, India, Malawi, Brazil, Belize, Cuba and Nicaragua. In 2011 he started The Hamilton Group, which brings the issues of the Earth to the forefront of decision-making. He led The Hamilton Group’s organisation of the Ecocide Trial at the UK Supreme Court in September 2011. He has a growing knowledge of India and has taken small groups of people from the UK to visit organic plantations and conservation programmes in the Western Ghats.

All photos: Habie Schwarz  
Click here for more photos.
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On 30 September 2011, two CEOs were put on trial in the Supreme Court of the UK, charged with three counts of the crime of Ecocide. Michael Mansfield QC led the prosecution with Christopher Parker QC defending. The courtroom was packed, the press was in full attendance and the trial was shown live round the world on SKY television. Everything rested on the jury’s verdict. A normal, high-profile trial? Yes, in every way except for three things - there is no legal crime of Ecocide, the CEOs were actors and it was a mock trial.

But could all this change? In April 2010, UK Barrister Polly Higgins who is spear-heading the Ecocide campaign, proposed to the UN that Ecocide, the environmental equivalent of Genocide, becomes the 5th International Crime Against Peace alongside Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, Crimes of Aggression and War Crimes.

The definition of Ecocide is:
the extensive 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.
Examples of ecocide that would fall under the proposed new law include de-forestation of the Amazon rainforest, the extraction of oil from the Athabasca Tar Sands in Canada, the huge BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, extraction of natural gas by ‘fracking’, bauxite mining of Niyamgiri mountain in India, and deep sea mining of the Central and Eastern Manus basin in the Bismarck Sea off Papua New Guinea.

The fundamental concept behind Ecocide is that the Earth and the natural world have rights but, under the laws set up by Humans, have little protection and no voice. This may seem by some to be far-fetched and not likely to happen anytime soon but in 2008, Ecuador became the first country to include Rights for Nature in its national constitution. In April 2010, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales Ayma called for the First People’s World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Over 35,000 people participated in Cochabamba, Bolivia, resulting in the Universal Declaration of Mother Earth’s Rights.

The Ecocide Trial was devised and set up by The Hamilton Group to highlight the arguments for and against a crime against Ecocide. The Supreme Court had never done anything like this before and it took a little while for them to agree. Their main concern was that the trial should not be seen to be providing a formal legal agreement to Ecocide. Although the legal teams and many volunteers gave their time for no financial reward, funds still had to be raised to pay for the venue, filming the trial and to cover expenses. Raising sponsorship was an interesting experience. Major law firms were thought to be likely to give support as a new law would give them more work. But they were very nervous of being seen to be putting their name to something that clients might be prosecuted under, and although they loved the idea none of them were prepared to be sponsors.

It took just 50 minutes for the jury to return with two unanimous guilty convictions of ecocide against the CEOs of Global Petroleum Company* and Glamis Group*. Both were convicted on charges of ecocide relating to oil extraction at the Athabasca Tar Sands in Canada, while the boss of Global Petroleum was acquitted of charges relating to the Gulf oil spill.

Michael Mansfield QC said after the verdict,
Companies cannot be given a licence to spill and kill provided they clear it up. The most pressing issue for any government in the world today, is the attack on our planet.
He is among those supporting the proposal for the UN to make Ecocide an international crime. Supporters include: the former Environment Minster, the Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher MP, who attended the day long Trial; Dame Jane Goodall; Sir Jonathon Porritt former Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission; Maude Barlow, author and Chair of the Council of Canadians, the World Future Council; representatives of numerous other international non-governmental organisations; and individual activists.

After the trial, Simon Hamilton, Chairman of The Hamilton Group, said
Ecocide should be on the Agenda at the Earth Summit in Rio in June 2012. The mock Trial proved that the crime of Ecocide is valid. The ethical and moral case for the banning of ecocides must now be at the forefront of decision-makers in Government and business throughout the World. We proved at the Supreme Court, that there is international interest in the passage of such a law and the Hamilton Group will continue to ensure that the implications are as widely debated and understood as possible.
Huw Spanner, Foreman of the Jury, said:
We reached unanimous verdicts on the two tar sands cases very quickly. It seemed to us beyond doubt that the two CEOs had willfully caused to be created large areas of water that were extremely hostile to life, and would probably remain so long after their companies had left the area. With regard to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we all agreed that the CEO of Global Petroleum was very guilty of something very serious - but was it ecocide? We had only half an hour to consider this question and, on the evidence presented to us, nine of us were sufficiently unsure to acquit him.

We found the whole experience fascinating. Although the 'trial' was very condensed, and the time we had to deliberate very short, we tried to approach our task like a proper jury.
Vandana Shiva, the renowned Indian physicist, environmentalist and member of the World Future Council, said:
The Ecocide trial is a very important step in waking us up to the violence which is the foundation of the current economy. We need another model that is non-violent, a model that makes peace with the earth. Ecocide must stop. The ideal of limitless growth is leading to limitless violations of the rights of the Earth and of the rights of nature. This is ecocide. We need to stop the destruction of the very basis of life on Earth and of human survival.
For Polly Higgins, the Trial was a huge boost, not only for the Eradicating Ecocide campaign but also as a test for her new law:
My hope and aspiration for 2012 is a commitment by Heads of State to make Earth Law at the Earth Summit. This is our number one priority: to have our leaders commit to Earth Law -- Ecocide and Earth Rights. We shall be seeking business leaders who are willing to take responsibility and support Earth Law, faith leaders to stand up for the Earth, and the people. We believe that the Earth has rights too. Our journey will be epic, and most importantly it will be a challenge -- but I believe we can do it together as one. This can be our legacy for future generations. Together we can eradicate Ecocide. I visualise a world where all nations have come together to decide what they can do to help the Earth and to help those most adversely affected by Ecocide; all nations working together to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and to work towards peace. I visualise all nations reaching out to make sure those who need help in every way, be it financially or otherwise, and planning how best to ensure the health and well-being of all peoples. This was the vision that inspired the United Nations in the last century and is embodied in UN Charter, a document that was written by “we the people.” In this century, this year ‘we the people’ can stand again and call on our leaders to speak on behalf of people and planet. We can start now to create the future we want. We can do it in small ways and big, each step is equally valued, be it changing our own lives at home or work, writing a letter to a leader you believe in asking him or her to support our campaign, spreading the idea far and wide through your networks, donating or meeting with others you think could help. Each time someone does this, a new connection is made, which in turn can pass on the baton and carry the message further forward.
On 31st March, the two CEOs will be sentenced. The Hamilton Group, in collaboration with The Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex is organising the process. The plan, if the Judge agrees, is to sentence them to a programme of Restorative Justice. How they respond when brought face to face with the inhabitants, human and natural, which have been extensively damaged by their actions will be interesting to see.

* 'Global Petroleum Company' and 'The Glamis Group' are names invented for the purposes of the trial.
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To see press coverage of the trial:,,15425719,00.html

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