Adam Branch and Liana Minkova, Ecocide, the Anthropocene, and the International Criminal Court. Ethics & International Affairs. (2023) 37(1) 51-79. (April 2023)
The recent proposal by the Independent Expert Panel of the Stop Ecocide initiative to include the crime of ecocide in the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute has raised expectations for preventing and remedying severe environmental harm through international prosecution. As alluring as this image is, we argue that ecocide prosecutions may be the most difficult, perhaps even impossible, in precisely the cases that the ICC would need to be concerned with; namely, the gravest global incidents of environmental harm, including those associated with planetary climate change. We explore a series of questions about the panel’s formulation of ecocide that resonate with longer debates around criminalizing environmental harm but take on new dimensions amid the Anthropocene and after twenty years of ICC trials. Ecocide must contend with the hard lessons learned concerning the ICC’s limitations in realizing justice in a fraught international political context and also with fundamental challenges to knowledge and legitimacy arising from the uncertainty and dynamic socioenvironmental context of the Anthropocene. The proposed amendment, if adopted, risks ineffective prosecutions or even perverse outcomes for the environment itself. This risk, however, may characterize any effort to prosecute ecocide internationally in the Anthropocene unless the terms of international criminal law are fundamentally rethought.