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Belgium First to Recognise Ecocide in International Law

The discussion around criminalising ecocide has been gathering pace over recent years, and now Belgian Federal Parliament just voted in favour of making ecocide punishable at both national and international levels, making the country the first European nation to recognise ecocide under international law.

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"Belgium is now at the forefront of a truly global conversation around criminalising the most severe harms to nature and must continue to advocate for the recognition of ecocide at the International Criminal Court, alongside genocide," says Patricia Willocq, Director of Stop Ecocide Belgium.

"In order to fully protect nature, it is necessary that those that would wilfully destroy vast swathes of the natural world, in turn causing untold human harm, should be criminalised."

Nationally, the new crime, which is aimed at preventing and punishing the most severe cases of environmental degradation, will apply to individuals in the highest positions of decision-making power and to corporations, reports Geographical. In addition, Belgium now recognises ecocide as a fifth ‘international crime’ after war crimes, crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity and genocide.

"There is real momentum growing around the ecocide law conversation at every level currently," says Jojo Mehta, CEO and co-founder of Stop Ecocide International. "We’ve seen a growing list of states take concrete steps towards establishing new domestic crimes of ecocide in the last year, including the Netherlands, Scotland, Mexico, Brazil, England, Italy and Spain. I have no doubt we’ll see international recognition in the near future."

Recognising large-scale environmental destruction as an international crime would bring two corollary effects, reported The Guardian in 2021. First, laws provide clear, long-term guidelines for financial decision-making and international aid. That something is morally questionable usually doesn’t hinder investment. Laws provide boundaries and sanctions for investment, as no company or organisation would want to invest in something potentially criminal. Second, laws can lead to a shift in social norms. Criminalising ecocide at the highest level would bring public, corporate and governmental understanding that the protection of the biosphere - the thin and fragile layer of life that supports our societies - must be a top priority for all nations.


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