Mass environmental devastation affects us all, even if the damage is inflicted within national borders. Yet as it stands today international law is inadequate to address extreme, willful damage to the environment.
Now, a global effort is underway to make international law a more powerful mechanism to protect our planet. In June 2021, the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide defined ecocide as the “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.”
This definition is an initial step to making ecocide an international crime. At present, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court lists four international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Recognizing ecocide as the fifth would create, in the Panel’s words, “a new and practical legal tool” to preserve and protect the Earth, our common home.
On Thursday, January 20, 2022, at noon (New York time), “Ecocide: A Discussion of Law and Ethics” will assemble international lawyers and scholars to discuss the Panel’s efforts to define ecocide as well as to examine the significance of shifting to an eco-centric framework.
Scheduled speakers include attorney and consultant Hugo Echeverria, an expert in the environmental rule of law, wildlife crime, and the rights of Nature; Kate Mackintosh, inaugural executive director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law and a deputy chair of the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide; and Olivia Swaak-Goldman, executive director of the Wildlife Justice Commission, who has published extensively on international criminal law and humanitarian law. Karenna Gore, CEE’s founder and executive director, organized the session and will serve as moderator.
Hugo Echeverria has worked in environmental law since 2001, with an emphasis on constitutional approaches to biodiversity conservation, the environmental rule of law, wildlife crime, and the rights of Nature, areas in which he practices as an attorney and a consultant. He also lectures on environmental law in Ecuador, at undergraduate and graduate levels. Between 2014 and 2017, he coordinated the minor on environmental law at the Faculty of Law of Universidad San Francisco de Quito, where he currently lectures in Environmental Law.
Karenna Gore is the founder and executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. Karenna formed CEE in 2015 to address the moral and spiritual dimensions of the climate crisis. Working at the intersection of faith, ethics, and ecology, she guides the Center’s public programs, educational initiatives, and movement-building. She also is an ex officio faculty member of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Her previous experience includes serving as director of Union Forum, a platform for theological scholarship to engage with civic discourse and social change.
Kate Mackintosh is the inaugural executive director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law. She has held multiple roles at the UN international criminal tribunals, worked in post-conflict human rights field operations in Bosnia and in Rwanda, and was for eight years legal adviser and then head of humanitarian affairs for the international NGO, Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders. Most recently she was a deputy co-chair of the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide.
Olivia Swaak-Goldman, the executive director of the Wildlife Justice Commission, has 25 years’ experience in international justice and diplomacy, has published extensively on issues of international criminal law and international humanitarian law, and served as a lecturer for both Harvard and Leiden Universities. Prior to joining the WJC, Olivia was head of the International Relations Task Force of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and Senior Legal Advisor at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among other roles.