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NST Leader: Law and disorder

New Straits Times logo New Straits Times 23/6/2021
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ECOCIDE, the wanton killing of the ecosystem, may soon become an international crime.

A group of legal experts from around the world brought together by the Stop Ecocide Foundation (SEF), a Netherlands charity, has, after six months of deep diving, arrived at a legal definition of the crime: unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.

Is it a good move? Yes and no. Here is why. Start with yes. There is no denying that we are facing an ecological crisis. Decade after decade of human activity on an industrial scale has been pummelling the Earth, destroying the natural world many species at a time.

Individuals and corporations are getting away with murder, literally. Ecocide as an international crime may just prevent the Earth from sliding away into ecological chaos.

As SEF has discovered, many corporations around the world are repeat offenders as the fines imposed by municipal courts are pittance compared to the profits they make out of their destructive activities. Banks are only too happy to finance such ecocidal businesses.

The reason? They are not crimes. Well, not yet. Making it the fifth international crime within the ambit of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will surely be a deterrent. The other four are genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

SEF is in a jubilant mood for an organisation which is just four years old.

The exhilaration is understandable.

Long before SEF, others have been on a decades-long drive pushing for ecocide to be included as an international crime. SEF is just a step or two away from states signing off on the definition.

But this will be the most difficult and crucial step. National interests and geopolitics may just add at least another decade of to-ing and fro-ing.

Now for the no. For a workable international law, especially a criminal one at that, the world must first be a rule-based order. The brutal truth is our world isn't.

The few superpowers and their allies have turned this world of ours into one where might is right. Justice can't happen here. Nor can it be caused to happen.

Look at the pathetic performance of the ICC. In its early years, it was vigorously chasing after Africans as if it was an international criminal court of Africa. As though there aren't any war criminals in America, Europe, Britain or Asia.

Chief prosecutor Karim Khan's predecessor Fatou Bensouda tried to do a better job but was stopped at every step.

Afghanistan and Israel were "no-go zones" for her because the United States and Britain said so. These are nations that want the ICC to be independent but when their nationals or the nationals of their allies are pursued by the court they accuse it of bias.

Ecocide will face the same problem the other four international crimes are facing. Go catch the weak and meek, the US, Europe and Britain will say in practised chorus.

Do not get us wrong. We are not belittling such noble work. All we are saying is make the world a rule-based order first. Only then can we tame the unjust.

Otherwise the ICC will keep failing us, with or without ecocide as an international crime.

© New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd

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