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UNEP – Defining the individual criminal responsibility for Ecocide

Home / UNEP – Defining the individual criminal responsibility for Ecocide


The idea of ecocide was first introduced in the 1970s, when the US military used “Agent Orange” in order to destroy the foliage cover and crops of Viet Cong troops. Since then, many civil society organisations and lawyers have supported the criminalisation of ecocide in international law. A proposal to amend the Rome Statute of the ICC to include ‘ecocide’ as a fifth crime against peace, ecocide was defined as ‘the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) 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 or will be severely diminished’. 

At present ecocide is only considered a war crime, and no charges have ever been filed, probably because of the very high threshold of damage required: an intentional attack causing ‘widespread, long-term and severe damage to the environment which would be clearly excessive.’ Corporate and State criminal responsibility is also excluded under the Rome Statute, and the status of ecosystems as a legal entity is still undefined. Thus, corporations and States which cause pollution, oil spills or perform illegal deforestation – a crime in times of war –  cannot be prosecuted in peacetime. Increasing attention for environmental issues lay bare a lack of criminal statutes under which to prosecute people or organisations that cause or willfully contribute to extensive environmental damage. The committee should define an international framework in which people and entities can be held criminally accountable for ecocide. 

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