The Dutch Party for the Animals wants to include ecocide as a crime in inter­na­tional criminal law

3 March 2021

The Dutch Party for the Animals calls on the Dutch government to join the global movement to criminalise ecocide - the large-scale damage and destruction of ecosystems by human actions. Initiator Lammert van Raan, Member of Parliament on behalf of the Party for the Animals, recently submitted a proposal to criminalise irreversible damage to the natural environment both nationally and internationally. This would enable the International Criminal Court in The Hague to prosecute government leaders and company directors for committing ecocide.

With this proposal from the Party for the Animals, the Netherlands joins previous calls by government leaders and members of parliament in France, Belgium, Sweden, Finland and the island states of Vanuatu and the Maldives to include ecocide in national legislation and international criminal law. Ecocide is, as can be read in the proposal of the Party for the Animals: “the superlative of a multitude of environmental issues where the extent of the damage is so great that the survival of all inhabitants in a region, humans and animals alike, is at stake.” Examples include environmental disasters caused by the fossil industry, deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from industrial activities, the dumping of toxic substances in rivers, the pollution of the habitats of indigenous peoples, and the overfishing of the oceans.

“Rising sea levels across the globe, the forest fires in the Amazon, and the oil spills in Nigeria. These environmental tragedies are the devastating consequences of the structural undermining of our living environment,” said Dutch Member of Parliament and initiator of the proposal Van Raan. “In 2021, the consequences of ecocide are being felt by the entire world as it struggles to deal with the coronavirus crisis, a crisis caused by a zoonotic disease. The ecocidal practice of deforestation has granted industries access to areas where humans had never ventured before. As the frontiers separating humans from the natural environment become increasingly blurred, viruses can quickly jump from animals to humans, resulting in the disruption of entire societies.”

Fifth crime against peace
In its proposal, the Party for the Animals calls on the Dutch government to push for the amendment of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC). It identifies four types of international crime: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. Ecocide was also included in the original draft, but fell by the wayside at the time, partly due to the actions of the Dutch government during the final rounds of the negotiations.

Following in the footsteps of renowned lawyer Polly Higgins, who co-founded the international Stop Ecocide campaign with Jojo Mehta, the Party for the Animals advocates recognizing ecocide as the fifth crime against peace.

“Every single day multiple stretches of rainforest the size of entire football fields are disappearing unhindered and oil spills pollute the living environment of people and animals without consequences for the companies responsible. There is an urgent need for a new instrument that can address this internationally. Our proposal includes ten measures that contribute to this,” says Van Raan.

Successful Nigeria case against Shell
Shell was recently held liable in court for the oil spills in Nigeria, after a 13-year lawsuit brought against the company by Nigerian farmers with support from Milieudefensie (the Dutch subsidiary of Friends of the Earth). A historic ruling and a hopeful precedent for cases such as the ongoing climate case against Shell and similar lawsuits against multinationals in the future. “This is an important prelude to the criminalisation of ecocide,” says the Party for the Animals. “Change is in the air, the era of the destruction of the Earth by governments and companies with impunity is coming to an end.”