Is destroying the environment a war crime? Kyiv wants to revive the discussions

“The fact that the Minister of Defense is interested in the topic during the conflict is a revolution in itself. Reading Oleksii Reznikov’s tweet did not inspire some hope in Maud Sarliev. The international lawyer, environmental and climate expert has been working for years to advance the debate on whether the crime of ecocide should be recognized in international law on a level similar to war crimes. Thus, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine reminded in his tweet that “Article 55 of Protocol No. 1 [additionnel à la Convention de Genève] prohibits acts of war against the natural environment,” 20 minutes he could not be contacted.

“Ecocide is not included in the four categories of crimes under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, so it could not be prosecuted,” he immediately gets angry when a Ukrainian minister calls for a “tribunal for Russia.” And anyway, The Hague prosecutes “the individuals responsible, not states or companies.” Another obstacle is admitting that we want to apply the text quoted by Oleksii Reznikov, “we have to prove that the damage is severe and has a long-term effect.”

Damaged biodiversity and long-term pollution

For Charlotte von Croy, program manager at Ifaw (International Fund for Animal Welfare), crime is no longer defined. “It is estimated that 20% of protected areas, 600 species of animals and 750 species of plants and fungi have been affected by the conflict,” he was quoted as saying with support from Ukraine’s Environment Ministry. “More than 1,000 forest fires were started in the fighting, which produced 33 million tons of CO2,” he adds. Far from the frontline, images of conflict have forced us to imagine localized damage in essentially urban areas.

In reality, the relentless bombing, advance and then retreat of Russian troops has seriously damaged the country, which is “home to 35% of Europe’s biodiversity,” especially by “destroying virgin steppes and ancient forests,” a Belgian biologist describes. . Bombed fuel depots also dump chemicals into nature, irreplaceable habitats that are “important carbon sinks to combat global warming.”

Charlotte von Croy also invites us to “consider the harm” to dolphins disturbed by mines and low-frequency sonars that routinely wash up on Black Sea beaches, and to “stressed” migratory birds that have to change course. no descent, exhausted.” “The war, of course, affects the environment and biodiversity in general outside of Ukraine,” he concludes. And as if that wasn’t enough, the site is “littered with landmines and unexploded ordnance that could take years to clear and have consequences for civilians,” supports Frédéric Joly, public affairs officer for the Red Cross.

Towards a court verdict in Ukraine?

Therefore, although Charlotte von Croy admits that it is necessary to go to the ground to better measure the damage, the boxes appear to be well filled to remind Article 55. So can crime unlock the answer? “The Civil Code of Ukraine is one of the few codes in the world that criminalizes ecocide and also contains provisions on war crimes,” explains Maud Sarliève. Therefore, “the Attorney General may decide to initiate proceedings if he decides that Protocol 1 is applicable.” As soon as the Ukrainian judiciary considers itself competent, the lawyer says that “the UN should not get involved.”

In the present state of the law it is perhaps better. Especially since Russia has not ratified the Rome Statute and “rejects the philosophy of what the ICC is,” this will create a number of challenges for bringing the accused to trial or enforcing the sentence. Nevertheless, “this is an area of ​​law in turmoil,” says Maud Sarliève, who sees in the Ukrainian minister’s requests “an opportunity to develop sound environmental law and adapt it to the conflict’s stake.” . But to bring the debate about ecocide back to the agenda on the international stage?

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