Maud Sarliève, Ecocide: Past, Present and Future Challenges, in LIFE ON LAND (Walter Leal Filho et al. eds., 2021)

International criminal lawyer Maud Sarliève argues for the criminalization of “ecocide,” which has no universally accepted legal definition to date. Her case for ecocide as an international crime flows from her position that the first step to designing “a robust and legally sound definition proposal” is understanding the challenges such a legal development presents.

After following the definitional evolution of ecocide at national and international levels, Sarliève envisions two ways to fill the legal vacuum:

  • amending the Rome Statute to include ecocide as a fifth crime under the International Criminal Court’s (“ICC”) jurisdiction
  • negotiating a new Multilateral Environmental Agreement (“MEA”) exclusively for the crime of ecocide, with a supranational organ to enforce its domestic implementation.

Emphasizing that “the priority should be to agree on a definition,” Sarliève recommends tasking an interdisciplinary group of experts in international environmental and criminal law, as well as the climate, and representatives of law enforcement authorities with such a mandate. In this regard, she advocates for three recent proposals to consider: (1) Polly Higgins’ draft Model Law submitted to the International Law Commission (“ILC”) (2010), (2) Valérie Cabanes’ “End Ecocide on Earth” (2013), and (3) Laurent Neyret and his team’s Draft Convention against Ecocide (2015).

The common challenge these ecocide provisions raise is their inconsistency with the principle of legality. The reality of organized crime groups and private corporations committing environmental crimes further complicates the criminalization of ecocide. Sarliève concludes by suggesting a similar approach to the Monsanto International Tribunal—testing representative cases—to fine-tune a draft definition. Such a definition “might eventually collect enough political support to lead to international negotiations” for a Rome Statute amendment or a new MEA.