Faith communities aim to make ecocide an international crime

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Image credit: Stopecocide

By Rosie Dawson

A global interfaith initiative aimed at making ecocide – the destruction of the natural environment by deliberate or negligent human action and – an international crime has been launched at an online conference.

The Faith for Ecocide Law conference was organised by Stop Ecocide International, the Christian Council of Sweden, and the Catholic diocese of Stockholm and attended by representatives from more than 50 countries. Speakers included representatives of global religions as well as indigenous communities. The Swedish Catholic Cardinal Anders Arborelius, Maori leader Erena Rangimarie Rereomaki Rhöse, and the Sami spiritual leader Eirik Myrhaug Partapuoli all addressed the conference.

The US spiritual writer Marianne Williamson also spoke to the conference by video link.

“Within every great religious and spiritual tradition there is an injunction to take care of God’s creations,” she said. “We can’t take care of our children if we can’t take care of our home – if the Earth goes down, humanity goes down. We need to say No to ecocide. We need to say No to the extraordinarily powerful economic and political forces which continue to destroy, desecrate and degrade the home that was created for our children.”

Conference organiser Pella Thiel told the Religion Media Centre: “Faith communities are really important voices because most people in the world have a faith. The situation we are in now is an existential crisis – the living systems we are part of are dying. We need the faith communities because they have experience of how to deal with existential questions.”

The International Criminal Court was established in 1998 to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression. Faith groups are being asked to put pressure on their governments to amend the court’s governing document to include a fifth crime of ecocide, defined by a panel of legal experts last year as “the destruction of the natural environment by deliberate or negligent human action”.

Ms Thiel says momentum for the change had been building over recent years especially since an intervention by Pope Francis in November 2019 in which he proposed that “sins against ecology” should be added to the teachings of the Catholic Church. He said: “This is a fifth category of crimes against peace, which should be recognised as such by the international community.”

Environmentalists plan to take their campaign to Stockholm next year as the United Nations marks the 50th anniversary of its first conference on environmental issues at which Olof Palme, then Sweden’s prime minister, became one of the first to use the term ecocide.

A change in international the law would require approval of two-thirds of government signatories. Vanuatu, in the Pacific, and the Maldives, in the Indian Ocean, have already called on the International Criminal Court to recognise the crime of ecocide. Belgium and France are also key voices in the movement.

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