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Belgium and the recognition of ecocide as a crime.

In October 2020, the Belgian government promised in its coalition agreement to take diplomatic action to put an end to "ecocide" and to consult experts on the inclusion of ecocide in Belgian law. 

 

In December 2020,  Sophie Wilmès vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs at the 19th General Assembly of the International Criminal Court, pleaded for member states' attention to the new international crime of 'ecocide'. Belgium was thus the first European country to openly support the international initiative. Vanuatu and Maldives, small island states that are the first to be affected by rising sea levels, had already done so a year earlier. Since then, France, Luxembourg, Canada and Finland have also expressed their support. In the Commission 

 

In July 2021, a draft resolution was submitted to the Federal Parliament to include ecocide in the Belgian Criminal Code. With the recognition of ecocide as a crime in Belgian criminal law, Belgium would be a forerunner in Europe.

In November 2021, the Commission of External Affairs of the Belgian Chambre of Representatives of the Belgian Parliament voted on a draft resolution calling the government to include the crime of ecocide in the Statute of Rome of the International criminal Court and in the Belgian Penal Code.

On 01 December 2021, Belgian MPs tabled a law proposal to introduce the concept of the crime of ecocide into the Belgian Criminal Code.

 

On 02 December 2021, the Parliament adopted in plenary session the text of 09 November by a majority (96 to 39 votes). 

This means that the parliament gave a green light to the federal government to take the necessary diplomatic steps to add ecocide to the list of international crimes prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. These crimes against peace are genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of aggression.

Belgium is among the first countries in Europe to receive parliamentary backing to make ecocide an international crime.  Any of the 123 member states can submit an amendment to include ecocide in the Statute of Rome. Belgium now has a clear mandate to do its very best to take on a leading role to submit such a proposal and find the required 82 allies who are willing to approve such an amendment. 


With regard to the inclusion of ecocide in the Belgian Penal Code, Belgium has provided in its government agreement for the inclusion of ecocide in its Penal Code. A committee of experts set up by the Minister of Justice has published their opinion on May 14th, 2022.

 

The report of the Belgian experts on the inclusion of ecocide in the national penal code.

On May 14, Expert Commission for the revision of the Belgian Penal Code’s advice on the inclusion of a crime of ecocide in the Belgian Penal Code was published in a Journal of Law .

 

According to the Expert Commission, the serious nature of the damage justifies the inclusion of a international crime of ecocide in the revised Penal Code. . 

 

The proposed definition of the international crime of ecocide is strongly inspired by the one proposed by  Independent Experts panel in June 2021. 

Here is the definition they propose: 

 

The crime of ecocide consists in deliberately committing, by action or omission, unlawful or arbitrary acts causing or likely to cause serious, widespread and long-lasting damage. term to the environment knowing that there is a real likelihood that such acts will cause such damage.

The commission suggests that the damage to the environment would have to be serious, widespread and long-term. The Commission states that it is up to the politicians to decide whether they want a wide application of a crime of ecocide or a more limited application.

 

It advises that a general intent is sufficient (the acts that cause damage need to be deliberate).

A specific intent (intention to cause damage) is not required.

It states that behaviour consisting of a (serious) lack of foresight or precaution seems to be exempt from the qualification of a crime of ecocide,,  

End Ecocide Belgium acknowledges the work by the Belgian Expert Commission on the inclusion of ecocide in the Belgian Penal Code.

 

Although we would love to see an even more ambitious definition of ecocide, we are pleased with the Commission's proposal as the definition is strongly inspired by the work of the International Independent Expert Panel presented in June 2021.

 

We consider ecocide crimes to be:

Actes illégaux ou résultant d’un défaut grave de prévoyance ou de précaution commis en connaissance de la réelle probabilité que ces actes causent à l’environnement des dommages graves qui soient étendus OU durables.

The role of an international crime of ecocide is to create a preventive guardrail to deter severe harms, provide fair business operating conditions and help redirect policy and funds towards a safe and peaceful future. 

 

Science and experts have spoken. We urge the government to act nationally and internationally and recognise the most serious cases of environmental damage as a crime.