Discussing with democratic lawyers about ecocide
On April 16th and 17th, our initiator and member of the Steering Group Prisca participated in the 18th congress of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. This association brings together lawyers from around the world who are working towards ensuring human rights. This year was the first year when they had a full day dedicated to the human right to a healthy environment, demonstrating the increasing importance of this area for the traditional human rights domain.
She presented a paper why Ending Ecocide is the next necessary step in international law in the Commission on the Human Right to a Healthy Environment. This right, as well as the rights of future generations, indigenous peoples, and nature itself are increasingly recognised by legislators and courts around the world. In order to safeguard those rights, both, an ecocide crime and a supranational criminal court to enforce it are needed. The concept of the crime of ecocide has been discussed for decades and now the time has come to implement it.
The commission looked in more detail into different ecocide cases, including Fukushima, the litigation against Shell for the damage done in the Niger delta, Chevron in Ecuador, and a moral tribunal for the crimes committed during the Vietnam War. A highlight was the presentation by the chief prosecutor in the Italian asbestos case where a company was convicted for damaging the health of citizens in and around Torino. His conclusions underline that supranational cooperation is key to ensuring effective enforcement of laws – but today this is not even working inside the European Union, leave alone beyond. Leida Rijnhout from EJOLT also presented the Environmental Justice Atlas which will soon include a specific section on ecocide.
Prisca also attended a workshop on strategic litigation against multinational corporations. Different lawyers and NGOs involved in strategic litigation against multinational corporations presented their cases. One key challenge is that the whole purpose of corporations having different legal personalities in different countries is to outsource risk, responsibility, and liability. In strategic litigation we have to bring that back by lifting the ‘corporate veil’ – a huge and very expensive task. As this is very difficult, collaboration across countries is key. Litigators can take advantage of the differences between the common and civil law systems. One participant shared for example the experience of bringing cases against asbestos companies in different countries and then using documents or information retrieved in one case in another one.
The conclusion of the day, however, was that litigation is only a useful tool when it can be used to create public pressure and an outcry, as this is what corporations really fear. So accompanying a law suit by a public campaign is essential. At the end of the day the only thing corporations fear is bad publicity – much more than millions of fines or even imprisonment for their managers.