From harm to harmony: Ecocide as an instrument of international law

“Criminalizing harm to nature echoes the universal, fundamental law of reciprocity: if you damage Mother Earth, there are consequences,” says Jojo Mehta of Stop Ecocide. “That is an increasingly obvious fact.”

Protecting the future of life on Earth means stopping the mass damage and destruction of ecosystems taking place globally.  This serious harm to nature is called ecocide. Mehta and her Stop Ecocide team are working with international criminal lawyers, Indigenous advisors, researchers and diplomats to amend international criminal law and make ecocide an international crime at the International Criminal Court. As part of that effort, Mehta teamed up with RAVEN to convene a panel on a webinar, “Crimes against nature through the lens of Indigenous sovereignty”, that took place Tuesday January 19th and was hosted by Jeffry Nicholls, Board President of RAVEN. 

Outspoken Indigenous MP Leah Gazan brought her wealth of knowledge as a member of Wood Mountain Lakota Nation, an academic and an elected official (MP  for Winnipeg Centre). Citing Manitoba Hydro, Mi’kmaqi fishery, LNG development in Wet’suwet’en lands, and the Trans Mountain pipeline project, Leah Gazan shared the growing tensions in Canada, whichhas refused to join 150 countries in the world that have recognized a clean, healthy and safe environment as a human right. . 

“The same kind of violence against Indigenous Peoples is enacted against the land. Here’s the thing. Mother Earth doesn’t need us: we need Mother Earth. We are at a critical juncture, to redefine that relationship so that it is one of non-violence. Resource extraction on the backs of Indigneous Peoples around the world has to change.”

— Leah Gazan, MP

Lawyer and human rights champion Robert Morales spoke about his people’s history and work towards a modern Treaty with the governments of Canada and British Columbia. “Early in the history of this province, multinational corporations were made beneficiaries of resources – timber, minerals, fish – all resources that had sustained Indigenous peoples.”

 Touching on the key obstacles holding nation states accountable and implementing rights in international law, Morales explained the proceedings that his people are leading before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to challenge the fee-simple granting of their territories, without treaty, to the E&N Railway Corporation. The creation of ecocide as an international crime would be of benefit to the process of applying international legal frameworks to Indigenous concerns.

“Canada may not be killing people in the street, but our people are dying. We are certainly very much in favour of preserving our territory, but it’s for different reasons: we don’t want a conservation area. It is so we can practice cultural traditions, gathering of food important to retaining our way of life and maintaining our connection to the Earth. We are conservationists but not just to ‘preserve’: the destruction of the environment has a very significant effect on our communities.”  

Robert Morales

Says Leah Gazan, “We are at a critical juncture. We need to more towards a green economy that protects workers, within a framework that respects UNDRIP and Indigenous People’s right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. I put Bill C-232 forward, recognizing the right to a clean, healthy and safe environment, to uphold commitments we’ve made to the international community.” 

Mehta highlighted the need to be informed by Indigenous values to discuss the importance of restorative justice. She explained how Stop Ecocide is enacting participatory and democratic models to craft the evolving legal framework: to learn more about that process and how you can engage, check out Stop Ecocide’s website.

Several hundred attendees hailed from from Abenaki Land, Tongva/Kizh, Mi’kmaki, Aotearoa (New Zealand), The Netherlands, Lenapehoking (NYC), Anishinaabe Territory: Niagara, Wales, Hawaii, Oxfordshire UK, Denmark, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Whitehorse, Copenhagen, and Longeuil Quebec. 

Watch the video here: 

A second webinar in the series is planned for February 16th with Sleydo (Molly Wickham), a fierce spokesperson for Wet’suwet’en Nation members and their allies who are fighting the Coastal GasLink pipeline and Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation’s lead voice on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Porcupine caribou. 

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