If a nation agrees to introduce the ecocide proposal to the International Criminal Court for consideration, that is when even harder work will begin. Ratification is a multistep process that would require support from either two-thirds or seven-eighths of the court’s members, depending on the type of amendment introduced. (Vanuatu still supports the campaign, but Covid-19 and the country’s “limited resources for international diplomacy” have put its ecocide advocacy on hold, said Dreli Solomon, a spokesman for Vanuatu’s embassy in Brussels.)

While no country has committed to formally proposing that the court adopt ecocide, the campaign is gaining traction, fueled by the youth-led climate movement and radical new groups like Extinction Rebellion.

In December, Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès asked International Criminal Court member states to examine the possibility of adopting ecocide as a crime. A member of Belgium’s Parliament has also proposed a bill to criminalize ecocide. And French lawmakers are working on legislation to make ecocide an offense punishable by fines and prison, though Stop Ecocide criticized the bill as “weak.”

At least 10 countries have national ecocide laws already, including Vietnam, which enacted the law in 1990.

Separately, French lawyers in January filed a request on behalf of Amazonian indigenous groups asking the International Criminal Court to investigate Bolsonaro of Brazil for crimes against humanity.

The appeal alleges that deforestation encouraged by Bolsonaro’s government and other policies have forced indigenous people from their homes and even led to murders in the region.

While the request relies on citations of crimes the court already addresses, the lawyers who submitted it have said the case is also an example of ecocide.

The Brazilian Embassy in Washington said in a statement that “the Bolsonaro administration is taking concrete action to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples and ensure the future of the Amazon.”

The embassy said that over 70 percent of the eligible Indigenous population has received initial Covid-19 vaccinations and that deforestation rates in the Amazon were 21 percent lower from August to January , compared to the same period a year earlier.

Badenoch said that while the hurdles to adopting a new international crime are high, they are not insurmountable.

“These things take a long time and they are complex,” he said. “But they can be done.”

Into the mainstream

While the campaign for an ecocide law could take years — if it is successful at all — advocates say the effort could bear fruit much sooner: The ecocide campaign has thrust the concept into public discussion.

Mehta doesn’t expect the campaign to catch fire in the United States, but after four years of President Donald Trump, she’s heartened by the arrival of John Kerry, Biden’s special climate envoy. “We don’t expect the U.S. to join the ICC any time soon, but that said, the conversation around ecocide itself, we don’t see any reason why it can’t start happening in the U.S.,” she said.

The State Department released a statement saying that the U.S. “regularly engages with other countries” on “the importance of preventing environmental destruction during armed conflict,” but added, “We do not comment on the details of our communications with foreign governments.”


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