F RONTLINE ACT I ON F ROM THE GRASS ROOTS
I N T E R N AT I O N A L MAKING ECOCIDETHE FIFTH CRIME AGAINST PEACE Polluters are put on trial to protect the Ear th’s right to life
The autumn of 2011 will go down in history as a time of political turmoil in the Middle East, instability in the world’s economic system, and record-breaking erratic weather conditions across the globe – but, most importantly, the time when the foundations of a “bridge to a new world’ were laid. This is no glib piece of rhetoric: the Ecocide Mock Trial, which was held in the UK’s Supreme Courts of Justice, played out a scenario where two chief executive officers of a fossil-fuel-based corporation were held to account for their business decisions, which had resulted in the destruction of ecosystems. Whilst these CEOs were played by actors, their real-life counterparts – think of the boss of BP presiding over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, or the heads of Shell complicit in the ongoing Niger delta pollution – are real enough, and so too were the barristers: Michael Mansfield QC for the prosecution and Christopher Parker QC for the defence, allowing for a legally realistic examination of the facts.
In a packed courtroom, the mock trial heard the defence argue that the CEOs had acted quickly to clean up the oil spill, to which Michael Mansfield quipped, “It’s like saying we bombed Warsaw but they recovered,” adding that “companies cannot be given a licence to spill and kill, providing they clean it up.” Then, exposing how easy it is to subvert logic, Christopher Parker skilfully prised an admission from an expert witness oceanographer that in fact as a consequence of a fishing ban in the region of the oil spill, fish stocks had increased. But the wool could not be pulled over the jurors’ eyes as they handed back verdicts of guilty on two counts, to huge cheers and applause from those in the courtroom. What this mock trial proves is that the moral imperative of protecting the Earth’s ecosystems must trump the economic imperative of business as usual, otherwise the outcome will be conflict – and conflict on the scale of genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity, the four crimes against peace. Visionary barrister Polly Higgins argues that ecocide must become the fifth crime against peace because climate change, industrial deforestation, tar-sands oil extraction, dead zones in the oceans, and the myriad other environmental wounds inflicted on the Earth do indeed cause wars, conflict, suffering and extinction of species.
“We can no longer profit out of damage to the Earth,” says Polly. “We have to face the shadow self and give it a name, so that we can begin healing.” That shadow self in all of us is buying into a system that sows the seeds of our own destruction. Once we acknowledge that economic growth at the cost of a healthy environment is not a price worth paying, we begin a personal healing that will lead to a planetary healing.
But it is hard to extricate ourselves from a system where it is the law to put profit first without a thought to the consequences. “Our laws are no longer fit for purpose,” says Polly. “Ecocide would impose ‘superior responsibility’ on those people who take decisions that ultimately destroy the Earth, so that they are responsible for the consequences of their actions and business decisions.”
Recognising that many businesses and corporations operate within a paradigm that encourages profligacy, Polly advocates an ‘eco-amnesty’, which would give businesses and corporations a fixed time-span within which to change their operational structure to a sustainable and regenerative one. “This would be the largest job-creation scheme humanity has ever seen!” she says. “We have a brief window of opportunity to co-create a new world, but it is down to each and every one of us to propel ecocide to the top of every government agenda and to bring it to the table at the UN Rio+20 talks in June.
“There are only 86 people in the world who stand in the way of ecocide becoming the fifth crime against peace. They might be 86 heads of state, lobbied by vested interests and corporations, but if we shout loud enough, we will be heard.”
Like the ‘Occupy’ demonstrations against the corrupt banking system, and the voices of democracy from the Middle East, we can and must use our social networks and our voices to advocate a new world of environmental justice and peace.
Polly Higgins at the mock trial Photo: Habie Schwarz
See page 30 for Polly Higgins’ Keynotes on the crime of ecocide.
Januar y/Februar y 2012 A HEART OF GOLD IN THE HEART OF DARKNESS
by Lorna Howarth
Photo: Andy Rouse/naturepl.com
Caring for people and wildlife in the midst of conflict
What little news comes out of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) tends to be very negative, creating a distorted view of the country and its people and environment. Such negative reporting overlooks the inspiring work that is being done by people on the ground. One such example is found in Bukavu, Eastern Congo, where the Pole Pole Foundation (POPOF) is based.
POPOF works on the long-term conservation of the nearby Kahuzi-Biéga National Park (KBNP) – home to one of the last groups of Eastern Lowland Gorillas – and the sustainable development of the surrounding local communities.
POPOF was started in 1992 by John Kahekwa, resident of Bukavu and chief gorilla tracker in KBNP. He had been given a $10 tip from a client, which he used to buy 10 T-shirts to sell to tourists. The T-shirts proved popular, so John bought more, and over time he managed to create a successful small business. Rather than spend the profits on himself, he decided to set up a foundation to engage the local communities in protecting the gorillas and the park.
He had seen how the ecological damage being done by communities was due to the poverty they faced and a lack of education about the value of the park and gorillas, not through malicious intent: as he continually used to hear, “Empty stomach got no ears.” Rather than seeing people such as poachers as criminals, he saw them as victims of poverty, so he sought to engage rather than criminalise them.
From the very start, the ethos and philosophy of the foundation was articulated in its name and logo. Pole Pole means ‘slowly’ in Kiswahili. The foundation aims to use small amounts of funding to start up projects, which slowly expand and bring long-term benefits to the park and the surrounding communities. To do this, it has built and runs a primary and a secondary school, which teach the new generation to better appreciate their surrounding environment and manage their natural resources in harmony with community development, to avoid conflict with the park. It also engages adults, especially ex-poachers and widows of men who have died protecting the park, in livelihood projects such as woodcarving, livestock programmes and clothes manufacturing.
The woodcarving links into a tree-planting programme, which runs tree nurseries that have given over 1.5 million seedlings to communities and encourages them to plant trees around their homes and fields. These trees provide wood for the carvings and also for making charcoal, which is sold to support the families of those involved. Together, these projects have significantly reduced the human pressures on KBNP and helped secure the future of the gorillas living there.
The foundation has faced enormous difficulties, as conflict has gripped the region, endangering its staff and largely destroying the tourism industry, a considerable funding source for its work. In spite of these huge obstacles, POPOF has remained in Bukavu, even while other, larger organisations have pulled out, providing a hope-inspiring tale for many places in the world where conflict and poverty threaten delicate species and ecosystems.
With thanks to Richard Milburn for this article. www.polepolefoundation.org
John Kahekwa, courtesy Richard Milburn