Ecocide was to be the 5th Crime Against Peace

– UN documents

by Polly Higgins

• Imagine my surprise when a journalist called me a year ago to ask for my comment on the news that a law of Ecocide had been considered an international crime over 15 years ago. All we had was one document that referred to three countries that had objected to it being included as Crime Against Peace.

Today, we have a paper trail that takes us back to 1972. The call to make Ecocide an international crime is nothing new; over 7,000 people took to the streets in Stockholm in 1972 to demand that ecocide be a crime. It was the time of the Vietnam War and world leaders had met in Stockholm to resolve environmental issues at an international level for the first time. At the same time, The People’s Forum brought together some of the top experts of the day to discuss Ecocide.

Fast forward a decade; 1985 saw the flame of the Law of Ecocide burn brightly again. Most significant was the draft “Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind” (precursor to the Rome Statute), which included Ecocide. For a further 11 years, the UN partook in concerted debate, discussion and research. One researcher even drafted the Ecocide Convention. What happened next is set out in the research paper, Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace.

Recently, the Human Rights Consortium at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London, launched The Ecocide Project, which will continue to unravel the question as to why it was shelved. Dr Damien Short, who has taken up the post of Director of the Human Rights Consortium said, “The paper provides a foundation of understanding on which we must build; there is more vital work to be done.” The report draws attention to the preamble of the draft Ecocide Convention, where there is the explicit recognition that Ecocide is not always a crime of intent and that Ecocide is caused in both times of war and peace.

“Man has consciously and unconsciously inflicted irreparable damage to the environment in times of war and peace.” These words have as much relevance today as they did when they were written in the draft Ecocide Convention in 1973.

My dream is for a world of peace, a world where mass damage and destruction no longer exists. I believe we can live in peaceful enjoyment where both people and planet are put first.

Portrait of Polly Higgins

Like the name of the research paper, Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace, just imagine that when we close the door to mass damage and destruction, a new door will open. When it does close, our world of conflict will end. What will open is the door to the world of peace.

Polly Higgins is a lawyer, barrister and the author of Eradicating Ecocide and Earth is our Business. Polly proposed to the United Nations that the law of Ecocide be the 5th Crime Against Peace. Visit for more information about The Ecocide Project. Download the research paper at

planet image © Wisconsinart

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