Saturday, November 12, 2011

Is Ecocide a Crime? (Yes.)

As oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in May 2010, and then CEO Tony Hayward made his infamous statement that he wanted his life back, he likely had little fear of it being taken in a court of law.

But that reality could be changing as a movement to make business executives and political leaders legally accountable for environmental destruction gains global momentum. Campaigners are calling for the introduction of a new internationalized law of ecocide - the mass destruction of ecosystems – that would be on a par with genocide and similar crimes against humanity.

In late September the Hamilton Group – an NGO promoting sustainable development - staged a mock trial at the U.K.'s Supreme Court. The day-long proceedings saw two fictional oil company execs - played by actors – face three counts of ecocide. Their multinationals stood accused of killing migratory birds and degrading the environment in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and in the tar sands in Canada, with the pair facing a volunteer jury, one supposedly screened to be free of activists.

“We took it very seriously,” says jury foreman Huw Spanner, a 51-year-old writer and editor. “It seemed a mixed group – there were some green skeptics,” he adds of the jury.

Their unanimous convictions on two of the three charges were perhaps a meaningless victory for Greens given that the proceedings – despite being based on real events and featuring genuine barristers, expert witnesses and a judge - were entirely devoid of legal status. more