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Violence against Healthcare: Social and Humanitarian Implications

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Historically, medical treatment during conflict has not been taken for granted as it is nowadays. For instance, in the 16th century, soldiers were not immediately taken from the battlefield to the nearest medical treatment facility, they had to wait two or more days until their conditions stabilized. Worst case scenario, they wouldn’t make it. Their sufferings were alleviated when the first surgeon began treatment on wounded soldiers. Ambroise Pare was the one who decided to give them a chance at survival. Therefore, back in the day, the term “violence” could not be associated with “healthcare”, since there wasn’t any humanitarian assistance available in the first place.

In the 21st, violence against healthcare does very much happen. Campaigns such as “Health Care in Danger” conducted by the ICRC and reports such as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health have coined the phrase “compounded cost of violence on healthcare” as a result of this type of violence occurring.

The case of Syria is a tragic example and it might seem more relatable to the general public due to the fact that is a contemporary humanitarian disaster. In one of the reports on ‘Protecting Healthcare in Conflict’ released by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria demonstrates just how devastating is the purposeful zeroing in on the destruction of medical facilities, the targeting of health care staff and the refusal of certain ethnic groups to allow the treatment of the ill and wounded. These attacks are having consequences of paramount importance on the increasingly significant exodus of healthcare staff, the vaccination campaigns that are being sharply curtailed and the inventory that is facing a seemingly insurmountable stock-out.

Variations in Violence

The most pervasive mode of violent attacks is on the medical personnel, irrespective of the fact that they are from an INGO or belong to the local workforce.  According to Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin, medical adviser to the ICRC, “healthcare workers in conflict zones are literally being hunted down”. Through the killing by armed groups of expatriate healthcare staff, their kidnapping from the workplace, their arrests and the constant threats coming from insurgents and governments in an equal manner, not to mention the countless explosive weapons used by armed forces during combat that render medical staff collateral victims and cause them severe injuries or even death, the healthcare system is being shattered from its roots.

Interesting cases have occurred when medical staff have been threatened to provide care for specific ethnic groups during the hijacking of an ambulance. An assistant medical coordinator at the ICRC in Bangui, Central African Republic recalled an instance in which she was “threatened by armed men who insisted on getting in the car and making us take them where they wanted to go. When we tried to explain our work to them they became angry and threatened us with machetes and rifles.” (“Effects of Violence on Healthcare”, 2014)

Another way through which violence against medical staff can be seen is through the limitation imposed by armed groups on the doctors while practising their jobs. For instance, a certain Dr. Cox talked to Discovery News about the rules of war and his experiences in Congo by saying that due to mortar rounds having fallen near the hospital, he had to tap the windows of the operating room to prevent them from shattering and perform the surgery while wearing body armour. This severely limits the way they practise medicine and puts them under constant psychological terror.

Violent events that are affecting the healthcare system as a whole are also those aimed at healthcare buildings. By buildings, it is meant hospitals, blood transfusion centres, laboratories, first-aid centres and those buildings in which medication and medical equipment is stored. Healthcare infrastructure is being hit by weapons during conflict, is being entered into by police and state armed forces or is being occupied for strategic reasons by armed groups. This ultimately leads to hospitals being unable to run generators because of lack of fuel or to the same healthcare buildings running out of drugs. According to the World Health Organization, 37% of the hospitals from Syria have been destroyed, while 20% have been severely damaged. There, the hospital under MSF jurisdiction was completely destroyed together with the rest of the town. This was the only hospital with surgery capabilities and the ability to provide treatment for tuberculosis and HIV for 270,000 people. Having suffered such a high degree of destruction – medical equipment, laboratory work and blood transfusions being thoroughly dismantled – it became extremely difficult for MSF to resume its activities. Nevertheless, the MSF personnel did manage to resume its activities by treating approximately 1,600 malnourished children only in the first 3 weeks.

Violent events also affect healthcare transportation. By transportation, it is meant medical vehicles such as ambulances, medical aircrafts, medical ships and machines used for the transportation of medical equipment or medical supplies. These vehicles are being attacked while en route by armed groups or state armed forces, they are being damaged by the same groups with the help of explosive devices and, most commonly, are being delayed and harassed at checkpoints. According to the Syrian-American Medical Society, 78% of the ambulances operating on Syrian territory have been badly damaged. The most representative cases in point are the attacks on healthcare infrastructure happening in Libya, thoroughly reported by the international media and the aid organizations.

Patients are also being attacked. Some even refuse to go to the hospital for fear of being identified by their wounds. Bijan Farnoudi, from the ICRC, told Al Jazeera that “a lot of the time they die because the ambulance didn’t make it in time, because the hospital they were trying to seek shelter in was destroyed the night before, or because they were simply too scared to travel to make it to the nearest clinic”, the latter also being a type of psychological violence against patients.

Doctor Rubin Coupland, a British war surgeon from the ICRC, is also advocating for the safety and dignity of patients by encouraging for the speeding of ambulance inspections at checkpoints. “It should take maybe five minutes to inspect an ambulance, not five hours”. He goes on to say that “you don’t have to put dogs in the ambulances to run all over the patients, as we’ve seen, to check for explosives”.

Another way through which patients are suffering from violence is by being abducted. For instance, in January 2014, the police raided a Ukrainian centre of the Red Cross. This event escaladed even further and the healthcare workers soon found themselves being shot at while witnessing the abduction of their wounded patients (“Attacks on Healthcare”, 2014)

Consequences of violence against healthcare

According to the Iraq’s health ministry, 18,000 out of 34,000 doctors fled the country between the years of 2003 and 2006 due to increasing violence. That led to the breakdown of the country’s health system, according to the founder of the NGO, Doctors for Iraq. The same individual warns that there are only 11 surgeons in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, “if anyone was killed, there would be no one to replace them”.

The worst-case  scenario in this situation is the complete withdrawal of entire agencies from disease-ridden areas. Unfortunately, this is not simply a scenario. For instance, MSF decided to pull out of Somalia in 2013, after 22 years of continuous humanitarian work due to the fact that 16 of its workers had been killed since 1991 and several had been attacked.

Both the fleeing and the withdrawal of healthcare workers have preposterous implications. The skills of these workers are often irreplaceable and the ability to recruit people after all the previous attacks becomes exceedingly problematic since they all have even more reasons to be afraid of getting killed.

There seems to be a whole campaign out there that has as its main purpose the targeting of anti-polio healthcare staff. For instance, only in Pakistan, in December 2012, 9 anti-polio workers were killed by gunshots, which led the United Nations to decide against the continuation of the eradication program in that zone of conflict. Approximately 2 weeks after this unfortunate incident, other 7 more workers, assigned to do community development work, were killed only because they were associated with the anti-polio work carried out by their colleagues. In February 2013, this time in Nigeria, members of an Islamist group killed 9 other healthcare workers. Since 2012, a shocking 60 healthcare workers dealing with anti-polio vaccinations have been killed, threatening a polio “renaissance”.

The same issue applies in terms of non-infectious chronic diseases. Because of this “militarization of healthcare”, many refugees are more predisposed towards overcharging and exploitation since they are not in their home country. Adjacently, the surge in non-infectious chronic diseases in war zones is something to keep an eye on since they are progressively in the foreground. Proof gathered from both natural disasters and warfare points out to the excess in mortality and morbidity as caused by non-infectious diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Moreover, not being able to access basic medical care leads to a propensity towards outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, typhoid or hepatitis.  All those seemingly routine blood tests needed for chronic diseases, such as the thyroid stimulating hormone or different types of medications like an asthma inhaler become unavailable when violence against healthcare buildings, ambulances or stores occurs. Maternal deaths are another reason why the lack of international healthcare or the lack of access to it is so sharply felt. These deaths – that can otherwise be considered preventable – happen because of mishandled home deliveries, all the missed abortions which in many cases led to sepsis and all the conflict-related impediments that constrain both patients and physicians’ access to one another.

Since many doctors are being considered “enemies of the regime” for treating protestors, for instance, they are constantly targeted which makes hospitals unsafe places to seek treatment in. That leads to an increase in the setting up of alternative places to practice “medicine” such as makeshift hospitals, underground networks of healthcare workers or, in some cases, somebody’s living room.  People choose to be treated in these parallel healthcare establishments for fear of being arrested or, even worse, tortured by their ethnic group for entrusting their health to these medical practitioners that are viewed as foes. However, these places have unsustainable and disjointed care.

Non-measured, non-existent…

“What we are surprised about is how much these incidents almost go unnoticed” said Yves Daccord, the Director-General of the ICRC. This is probably due to the fact that all of these repercussions brought by violence on the healthcare system are equally tough to measure. As Rudi Coninx from the Emergency Risk Management and Humanitarian Response department at the World Health Organization stated, “If you ask someone at WHO, ‘What is the extent of the problem?’, if they were honest, they would say, ‘I don’t know’, as nobody collects these data in a systematic way”.

Legal Provisions 

A year after the creation of the ICRC, the Geneva Convention of the 1864 set the legal basis for the neutrality and protection of medical personnel, hospitals and ambulances against violence during active combat (ICCR, 1864). However, the Geneva Conventions that are currently serving as the legal frameworks for the carrying of medical activities in armed conflicts were negotiated in 1949. They were subsequently amended with the inclusion of the Additional Protocols that were meant to take into consideration newer types of conflict. However, these violations of the law go far beyond the principles enshrined in the Geneva Protocols. According to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, the aftermath of conflict affects children’s right to healthcare, in terms of their ability to access healthcare services during wars and the difficulties encountered by the healthcare personnel in providing for their most basic needs. That happens in spite of the legal framework constructed by the United Nations Security Council in which the protection of children in conflict zones is rendered a priority. The denial of humanitarian access to healthcare services is situated among the other six violations classified by the UNSC as gravely affecting the wellbeing of the children. Another violation is represented by the attacks on hospitals and schools. The main idea is that all of these violations are inadequately covered in the current legal framework meant to protect healthcare in conflict zones.

Refashioning the System                              

Steps towards the remodelling of the healthcare system have already been taken starting with the mere acknowledgement of the problems posed by the violence against healthcare. For instance, in May 2011, at the World Health Assembly, the government expressed avid interest towards the matter by simply admitting violence against healthcare does happen; more than that, it is pervasive and something needs to be done about it.

Nonetheless, this is not the stage at which things should be stopped. Appropriate measures to advance the delivery of healthcare by enhancing security need to be taken both within the health community itself and in the arenas of politics, law by creating standard operating procedures within the military and enhancing humanitarian dialogue. For example, in the realm of politics, the obstruction in the manufacture and trade of light weapons and small arms could lead to less civilian deaths in active combat. Another solution to protect healthcare workers is to establish a special protection force. Furthermore, something that is already being done with leaders of rebel groups such as Charles Taylor is the prosecution of attack perpetrators on healthcare personnel at the International Criminal Court.

“One of the first victims of war is the healthcare system itself”, as Marco Balden interestingly stated. Some even believe that the legal framework is not as relevant anymore due to the urgency and importance of the matter. For instance, Paul Christopher Webster, an award-winning documentary film director who has reported from 20 countries since 1992, sustained the idea that “we need to focus on the consequences and not get bogged down in legalistic debates”. He then went on to say that “this issue [violence against healthcare] is very real and very important for huge numbers of patients”.   Regardless of differing opinions, what needs to be borne in mind is that the sick and the wounded are being denied healthcare that can make a difference between life and death when healthcare workers and killed, injured or threatened and when ambulances and hospitals are rendered non-functional.

Alina Toporas is a recent Master of Science graduate in Global Crime, Justice and Security at the University of Edinburgh Law School. She has previously worked for the European Commission Representation in Scotland, the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA), the Romanian Embassy in Croatia and Hagar International (the Vietnamese branch). She is currently serving as a Communications Assistant of the British Embassy in Romania. Her research interests are mainly targeted at the EU-UK cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) post-Brexit. Alina is also the author of various pieces on transnational crimes (namely, human trafficking and illicit trade) with a geographical focus on South-East Asia.

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International Law

Upholding Dharma by Mob lynching?

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Label any Muslim a cow smuggler, accuse him of carrying beef and then lynch in the name of protecting religion. These premeditated barbaric acts seem to have become the order of the day. According to “Hate Crime Watch”, around 90% of religious hate crimes have occurred after the change of Central government in India in 2014. Although Muslims are victims in 60% of incidents, people from all religious faiths have suffered hate crimes.

India’s constitution promises its citizens justice, liberty and equality, but the shattering of social life through mob violence triggers an inescapable sense of powerlessness among its citizens. After the 2015 gruesome Dadri lynching, Mohammad Azam was lynched in July 2018 by a mob in Karnataka after a series of WhatsApp messages had warned locals that child kidnappers were on the loose. The mob assumed that Azam, who worked for Google, and his friends were co-conspirators and lynched him. In 2019, Tabrej Ansari became the first victim of the gruesome hate crime in the second term of the current regime led by proponents of Hindutva. He was lynched by a mob that forced him to chant Hindu religious slogans. In June this year, three people were lynched on suspicion of cattle smuggling in Tripura.

It needs to be recalled that lynching was used to terrorize black community for generations in the United States; blacks were lynched on dubious and false criminal accusations but this was put to an end through NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). In a similar fashion today, there is a growing perception that mob lynching happens with disturbing regularity in India to terrorize not only minorities but also dissenters in the name of religion and culture.

Violence against those who dissent is sought to be rationalized as nationalistic. The killings of Mohammad Akhlaq, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi, Narendra Dabolkar and Gauri Lankesh were masterminded by religious bigots masquerading as nationalists. In fact, the recent murder of George Floyd at the hand of a racially bigoted policeman in the United States, and custodial torture and death of a father-son duo in Tamil Nadu are hate crimes which are blots on the conscience of democratic societies.

Contemporary India has witnessed a surge in right-wing Hindu extremism, and crimes committed in the name of Love Jihad, beef eating, child kidnapping, cow slaughter and anti-Muslim fake news are aimed at normalizing this disturbing phenomenon. This right-wing propaganda usually spreads like a wildfire on the internet, particularly on the so-called Whatsapp University where it has become quite common to see pictures and videos of dead cows lying in a puddle of blood. It has been noticed that such videos and images on social media platforms are always of questionable veracity whose primary purpose is to incite fear, anger and violence. Very often, the text accompanying the videos appeals that everyone should spread it as much as possible in order for it to reach at the highest political executives. When this damaging and dangerous content is continuously circulated, the resulting fear in the minds of majority community gets converted into hatred toward the minority community.

These are nothing but politically motivated polarizing tactics and diatribes which only feed off pre-existing demeaning stereotypes of minorities. Technology has become an enabler of violence for various political and cultural reasons. There are many parties and stakeholders involved in these hate crimes but victims are only innocent people and invariably from vulnerable socio-economic groups. But the most shameful is the attitude of India’s politicians and police officials who justify these crimes, garland the lynchers, deny it ever happened or shrug off their responsibility by preferring to watch as mute spectators. Even delayed or muted condemnation of communal violence, by those in positions of power, only signal tolerance of such activity. Unfortunately, both the mob violence and the official response to it are symbolic of the Indian state’s rising incompetence in countering religious intolerance.

In recent years, the alarming idea that the ‘nation’ belongs only to the majoritarian community has made global strides as many countries like Poland, Hungary, Brazil and Turkey have come under its sway. Even many long-established democracies, including the United States, are feeling the pressure of this authoritarian tendency. The emergence of Hindu nationalist ideology in India, which is seen as replacing Indian civic nationalism, promotes the notion of a unique national culture grounded in Hindu cultural supremacy. The proponents of Hindu right-wing extremism are trying to radicalize their children and youth with ultra-conservative and fictional thoughts which often re-assert historical prejudices and ungrounded hatred toward Muslims.  

One may be wrong, but cynical indifference shown by the middle class citizens tends to breed servitude and perpetuate complacency. When the victim of mob violence dies a death, shockingly there is no remorse from the crowd. Only the victim’s family remembers the event even as the societal silence is spine chilling. Actually, one should not ignore the performance aspect to mob lynching. Those indulging in mob lynching or public beatings ensure that their acts are recorded and then the potential circulation of such videos is targeted to send a strong message of the majoritarian men terrorizing minority men into humiliation and subjugation.

The dominant mainstream assumptions that cattle slaughter and beef trade directly concerns only Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and Christians is also far from reality. Unfortunately, framing of the debates around bovine trade along communal lines has been sustained by provincial media which acts as an echo chamber to propagate Islamophobia. It has also been observed that the messages of hate get intensified after any terror attack, and instigate people to act against specific communities, primarily Muslims.

In July 2018, a landmark judgment given by the Supreme Court had condemned the incidents of mob lynching and cow vigilantism as ‘horrendous act of mobocracy’, asking the government to enact strict law to counter them. Nevertheless, in spite of comprehensive guidelines and anti-lynching laws in some states such as Rajasthan, Manipur and West Bengal, the mob violence continues unabated. In many states where the right-wings groups feel emboldened such as Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, there is widespread feeling that the enactment of stringent cattle preservation legislation has further exacerbated such crimes. Those who think that the lynch squad is a thing of the past are wrong.

Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) do not have specific provision dealing with the mob lynching because this was never seen as a crime in India. It is similar to terrorism for which we have the most stringent laws. But mob lynching causes more than just a death; it kills the spirit and substance of democracy. We are told that Hindus and Muslims share the same DNA in India. How can the cold-blooded lynching of one’s brethren make one a hero rather than a murderer? How can a policeman’s lynching and alleged cattle lifter’s lynching possess different form of bestiality? In fact, the time has come to brand mob lynching as ‘domestic terrorism’ and a serious threat to India’s internal security.

Does glory to Lord Rama be restored through unruly mob justice? Does the path to righteousness come through killing innocent people in the name of Cow? Does circulation of derogatory and hateful projection of Muslims bring glory to Hindus? Are those calling publicly for violence against Muslims and Christians are real friends of the Indian State and government? Is not hate crime the prelude to genocide? These uncomfortable questions shake the core of India’s multi-religious and pluralist democracy. India’s timeless civilization has unflinchingly celebrated the foundational principles of humanity such as non-violence, tolerance, peaceful-coexistence and ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ which is one of the most important moral values engraved in the heart of every Indian. These eternal principles come under violent assault whenever a mob kills an innocent Indian.

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International Law

International Criminal Court and thousands of ignored complaints

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©ICC-CPI

The civil war in Donbass has been going on for more than seven years now. It broke out in 2014, following Kiev’s decision to launch a military operation against the local militia in Donbass, who did not accept the Maidan coup that had happened in February of that same year. More than 10,000 civilians were killed in the conflict.

Correspondents of the French newspaper L’Humanité Vadim Kamenka and Jean-Baptiste Malet, French historian Vincent Boulet, as well as a MEP and a member of the Spanish Communist Party Willie Meyer took part in the international conference “Topical Issues of Human Rights Violations in Donbass.”

Moderating the conference, organized by the Society of Friends of L’Humanité in Russia (the French leftist newspaper’s Russian office), was the head of the interregional public organization “For Democracy and Human Rights” Maxim Vilkov.

The conference was also attended by the deputy foreign minister of the Lugansk People’s Republic Anna Soroka, human rights activist Yelena Shishkina, director of the Society of Friends of L’Humanité Olesya Orlenko, and head of Donetsk National University’s department of political science Artyom Bobrovsky.

The participants discussed numerous cases of human rights violations by the Ukrainian security forces and paramilitary units in the course of the civil war in Donbass. The left-minded European participants paid special attention to the fact that none of the 6,000 complaints about the actions of Ukrainian security officials and nationalists had actually been taken up by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Small wonder too, since the atrocities committed in Donbass immediately bring to mind the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s when leftwing antifascists from across the world fought supporters of fascists and Nazis. Let’s not forget that even DW (foreign agent) admits that the share of neo-fascists in Kiev’s Azov regiment is very significant.

The participants called upon the ECHR to pay attention to the non-investigation of crimes committed in Donbass.

Human rights activists and public figures from Russia, France and the unrecognized republics of Donbass called on European international human rights organizations to pay attention to the failure to investigate crimes committed during the armed conflict in Ukraine. This is stated in the statement, which was sent to European international organizations after the conference.

The statement also calls attention to obstacles created to prevent citizens from filing applications to investigate crimes, as well as to attempts to ignore pertinent complaints from international bodies.

The latter, according to the authors of the statement, is especially important since “10,650 applications have so far been submitted to the ECHR concerning violations of citizens’ rights during the civil armed conflict in Ukraine. Of these, 8,000 come from Crimea and Donbass, including 7,000 from Donbass alone. Moreover, 6,000 are complaints made against Ukraine proper. However, during the past seven years, not a single complaint pertaining to the conflict in Donbass has been considered.”

Human rights activists called on the ECHR and the International Criminal Court (ICC) “to ensure that the crimes committed in Donbass are investigated in full compliance with the ECHR and ICC charter, as well as to bring pressure to bear on the political leadership of Ukraine to fulfill its obligations to protect the rights of its citizens.”

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International Law

Crime of Ecocide: Greening the International Criminal Law

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In June 2021, an Independent Expert Panel under the aegis of Stop Ecocide Foundation presented a newly-drafted definition for the crime of ‘ecocide.’ The Panel consisting of 12 international lawyers proposed that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be amended to include ecocide as the fifth international crime along with the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The inclusion of the crime of ecocide in the Statute will entitle ICC to investigate, prosecute, and try individuals accused of causing grave harm to the environment.

The term ecocide comprises the Greek word ‘oikos,’ meaning house or environment, and ‘cide,’ meaning an act of killing. Premised upon the term ‘genocide,’ ecocide means the significant destruction of the natural environment by human actions. In 1970, it was first used by Arthur Galston, an American biologist, at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington DC. The term was further quoted by the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in his opening speech at the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm. Since then, multiple efforts were made to include ecocide within international law. Interestingly, it was adopted as an additional crime in the early drafts of the Rome Statute; however, later, it was dropped due to the lack of an adequate definition. If succeeded this time, it will be a significant victory for the environment since none of the existing international criminal laws secures it as an end-in-itself.

Definition of the crime of ecocide

The Panel has defined the crime of ecocide as, “For the purpose of this Statute, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.

The definition comprises two thresholds that should be fulfilled to constitute a crime of ecocide. Firstly, there should exist a substantial likelihood that the ‘acts’ (including omissions) will cause severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment. In other words, along with the damages causing severe harm to the elements of the environment, such damages must have an impact on a wider geographical location or for an unreasonably longer duration.

It is appreciable that the Panel has widened the scope of the definition by incorporating spatial and temporal dimensions to its meaning. However, they have changed their position adopted in the previous legal instruments to employ a mix of conjunctive and disjunctive formulations in the definition. In addition to its severe nature, such harm could be either widespread or long-term to constitute a crime of ecocide. Thus, any severe and widespread activity, such as chopping down huge rainforests, could be attributed to ecocide. Similarly, any severe activity whose consequences prevail for a longer duration, for example, causing the extinction of a plant or animal species, could also amount to the crime of ecocide.

Instant reading of the first threshold indicates that the ecocide definition might include day-to-day human activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental damages. It raises a question – Whether humans are environmental criminals? Though, it might be true that most human actions, directly or indirectly, are continuously degrading the ecosystem around us. However, the definition of ecocide is primarily concerned with the large polluters whose irresponsible activities at a massive level are a threat to the environment. Thus, to narrow down the ambit of the definition and identify criminal activities precisely, the Panel added a second threshold, that is, the ‘acts’ causing damage to the environment must be unlawful or wanton.

It means, only when the actions are either prohibited under national or international laws or indicate a reckless disregard for excessive destruction of the environment in achieving social and economic benefits will they amount to the crime of ecocide. The second threshold hints towards an anthropocentric approach of the definition and protects a range of human activities deemed necessary, desirable, and legitimate for human welfare. To determine the lawfulness of the acts, the actions should be seen with their potential social and economic values. The ecocide definition relies upon the principle of sustainable development to balance environmental destruction with human development and prohibits all destructive activities that outweigh their social and economic benefits. It also means that the definition places a ‘limited’ environmental harm outside the scope of the definition, which cannot be avoided for achieving social welfare that includes housing developments or establishing transport links.

The proposed definition is more concerned with the massive instances of environmental damages. It does not consider small ‘necessary’ ecological harms caused by day-to-day human activities. However, it is equally essential these negligible-looking destructive contributions of humans, made in their individual capacity, should not go unnoticed. These small contributions combined with each other also significantly impact the environment in the form of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other hazards. Thus, the reckless human lifestyle is a significant issue and needs to be regulated through some international code of conduct, if not as ecocide.

Undoubtedly, the proposed ecocide definition is a remarkable effort that should be appreciated for multiple reasons. First of all, the release of this definition indicates that the time has come to start penalizing environmental offenders and create deterrence so that such destructive activities can be minimized. It establishes the responsibility and accountability of big corporate houses and political leaders whose regular investments are causing substantial harm to the environment. Moreover, this definition founds its bases upon many core principles and concepts of public international law, international environmental law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law. For instance, the principle of no transboundary harm, sustainable development, proportionality, and necessity are aptly referred to in the ecocide definition. Moreover, it also provides a sufficiently broad definition of the term ‘environment’ to primarily include any damage committed towards the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and outer space.

Way Forward

Though the ecocide definition is a significant development, it still has to go a long way to be included in the list of international crimes. For this purpose, any of the 123 member states to the Rome Statute can officially submit the definition to the UN Secretary-General. The proposal has to be accepted for further consideration by the majority of the members through voting. Further, the text will be subjected to debates and deliberations and must be passed by a two-thirds majority of the members. Moreover, the member states need to ratify or accept the proposed text. Only after one year of such ratification or acceptance ICC may exercise its jurisdiction over the crimes of ecocide committed afterward. This entire process can take many years or even decades to get completed. It is also possible that the structure of the current definition might change in due course of its acceptance.

Today, it is unclear that whether this definition will succeed in amending the Rome Statute or not, but what can be said with certainty is that this definition will play a crucial role in building awareness and discourse around ecocide among the governments, corporate houses, professionals, and masses across the globe. With the pressing needs of humans and prevailing threats to the environment, it is the right time that the actions of the offenders should be regulated through the prism of international criminal law.

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