Could ecocide become the fifth crime against peace in the Rome Statute?

30 November 2015 by Tjitske Lingsma, The Hague (The Netherlands)

“The rainforest is our supermarket, our hospital, pharmacy, our school, and it is where we pray,” says Humberto Piaguaje, chief of Ecuador’s Secoya indigenous group, speaking at a Hague Talks discussion timed to coincide with the annual state parties meeting of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In stark contrast with the audience in The Hague, he wears a white tunic, overlaid by long, colourful beads crossing at the waist, and a red and yellow headdress. The Secoya see themselves as part of their habitat, the Amazon rainforest, where each earthly element has a living spirit identity. “The trees are our siblings,” the chief explains. “That’s why we feel so hurt when someone comes and destroys our land.”

Secoya chief Humberto Piaguaje, with microphone, protests among Rainforest Action Network activists outside Chevron’s shareholder meeting in May 2011 (Photo: Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)
Image caption: 
Secoya chief Humberto Piaguaje, with microphone, protests among Rainforest Action Network activists outside Chevron’s shareholder meeting in May 2011 (Photo: Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)

A group of 30,000 Ecuadorian indigenous people and farmers have been taking various cases to courts over what they claim is destruction of their environment and way of life. They now seek to convince The Hague court to revise its founding Rome Statute to have jurisdiction over their grievances, summed up as ecocide.

Piaguaje says his people began suffering from “ecocide” – crimes against the environment – when in 1964 petroleum company Texaco started drilling for oil on their homeland. Trees were cut, and oil spills and toxic waste dumps polluted the land, groundwater, rivers and streams, destroying the livelihood of several indigenous tribes, claims the chief. Texaco (acquired by Chevron in 2001) left Ecuador in 1992, but campaigners say damage and contamination are continuing to cause harm because the mess has not been cleaned and crude oil is bubbling from the ground.

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