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12 June 2013


This article first appeared on April 2013, updated June 2013 Image from the global Eradicating Ecocide campaign

in Ireland

to make sustainability legal by Cathy Fitzgerald

“If you are interested in stopping fracking and other environmental destruction, a Law of Ecocide and nature-based rights are developing in response.” Cathy Fitzgerald, a New Zealander, is Irish Green Party Forest spokesperson, and an independent researcher on ecocide and deep sustainability:

“The environmental movement is a failure. Whether its climate change or the health of our oceans, air, and soil, the planet is worse off now than it was 40 years ago, and rapidly declining. Yet, corporations have more rights than our communities or ecosystems and are doing just fine. This is how we fix the situation.” Thomas Linzey, lawyer, founder of US Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund organisation


On 13 April 2013, I presented a motion at the 2013 Irish National Green Party convention on ecocide that was unanimously supported.

Could an Ecocide Law prevent environmental destruction?

One of the key concepts and terms in my PhD work, thesis This article was written working title: ‘Beyond before the Irish Green Party convention (on my website). ecocide toward deep sustainability: stories from a It explains why I worked to get the term ‘ecocide’ into the small Irish forest‘ is – ‘ecocide’. Irish political and public domains to enact social ‘Ecocide’ is a term I kept change. I have added some coming across in my research recent information from the and reading. In fact I first End Ecocide campaign.


used ecocide almost without thinking. To me it so well conveyed the exponential accelerating ecological suicide that is occurring globally. Particularly the horrifying rate of destruction since World War II, that some are calling ‘The Great Acceleration’, that characterises our now globalised, extract-at-all costs, industrial growth society. However, one of the fundamental principles in undertaking doctoral level research is that you fully define all terms and concepts. I had some years ago been alerted by one of my blog followers that I should look at the work of UK legal barrister, Polly Higgins.

What is ecocide? In March 2010 Polly Higgins proposed to the United Nations that Ecocide be the 5th international Crime Against Peace. This is the definition she proposed: Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.

The website is the most comprehensive resource for the history and current research into ecocide legal developments. It is also the site for the growing global campaigns to raise awareness of how we can all become involved in outlawing ecocide (taking part in the Earth is Our Business - changing AVAAZ, Wish20 Eradicating Ecocide and if you live in Europe  the online the rules of the petitions are a good place to start, you can game (2012), her also follow and share the posts from the well received Ecocide is a Crime Facebook Page (the is ecocide TEDxExeter 2012, now a new Irish End Ecocide Faceboook TEDxWhitechapel page too, see end of article). 2013 talks and her recent presentation How can a law against in Vienna’s Hofburg Palace (June 2013) ecocide work? has developed Polly Higgins and Thomas Linzey, a leading quickly to become an international campaign; to have corporate lawyer working in the US, and growing ecocide recognised in international law as the numbers of leading international legal people missing 5th international crime against peace. and researchers, are arguing that in much the same way that slavery and disenfranchisement against women were “How can we move perpetuated by seeing other races and women from a place of dependency ‘as property’, that changing laws to overturn to a place of interdependency? the erroneous idea that natural ecosystems be regarded as property, will powerfully and How can we legally shift corporations away from committing crimes of ecocide. create a world of peace?”  Polly Higgins’ work in organising a high profile mock legal trial against corporate ecocide at the Supreme Court of England and Wales, her award-winning books on ‘Eradicating Ecocide (2011)’,

Polly Higgins, ‘Lawyer for the Earth’, TEDx Whitechapel, UK, February 2013

Founder of the Eradicating Ecocide campaign


This is not to underestimate that this is complex area (leading legal experts in universities, particularly some University of London legal researchers, are working hard to address all the many legal details on this issue) and I have only briefly highlighted the


key point here. Yet this key point, to extend a legal, enforceable ‘duty of care’ to ecosystems would be a paradigm shift for humanity, and the corporate world in particular. Corporations are legally mandated to produce profits; this law would fundamentally change corporations actions and enforce eco-social responsibility and accountability. This will in turn legalise long term sustainability for the earth’s life giving ecosystems.

Ecocide law works: Ecocide has affected my family as my late father was a New Zealand Vietnam veteran. However through the hard work of the NZ Vietnam Veterans associations and the then Labour Government under former Prime Minister Helen Clark, a Memorandum of Understanding sought acknowledgement, compensation and redress to the children of NZ Vietnam veterans by the ecocide caused by these long lasting poisonous herbicides.

Ecocide legal frameworks already exist and have been used Ecocide has since been recognised legally from the Vietnam war onwards, and some legal redress for victims of ecocide has and is occurring. Oddly unsettling in my reading about ecocide, is that I found the term is exactly the same age as me. I say this as the term evolved in the late 1960s from recognising the criminality behind the long term destruction and poisoning of the forest and food ecosystems in the Vietnam war with industrial chemical herbicide agents such as Agent Orange used by the US military (Monsanto/Dow Chemicals and other companies produced Agent Orange and an arsenal of other poisonous ‘rainbow agents’).

My late father Kevin Fitzgerald and me (around 1966) and the reason why I put this motion of ecocide forward. My father was a Vietnam veteran fatally affected by a cancer associated with Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used to destroy Vietnam’s forests.

My sisters and I are now on a official NZ Vietnam Veteran’s Children’s Register which gives some support to descendants affected by cancers/diseases attributed to Agent Orange and the millions of tons of poisonous herbicides sprayed across Vietnam and other parts of Asia in the 20 000+ US military air raids (see notes at end of article for more details on this NZ landmark case).

Agent Orange in particular was noted for its disastrous long term residual poisoning of ecosystems and human populations with dioxins – lethal cancer and birth defect causing compounds, and other persistent effects of which health professionals and scientists are still realising and dealing with today).

Ecocide since the Vietnam war is legally recognised in war situations 3

This is the NZ Vietnam’s Veteran’s Children’s card I have that gives me access to specialists doctors


On a personal note, my father, a very quiet man, could never speak easily of America or its culture again and the destruction he witnessed to a beautiful country and the peoples of Vietnam. I grew up knowing him interested in these things; reading the paper, vegetable growing, his love of the wild forested West Coast of the South Island of NZ, horse racing and Labour Party politics. He often bribed us as children (with chocolate) to deliver Labour Party political leaflets in our local area and he would have been so moved that it was the Labour Party that worked hard to bring some compensation to his engineer army colleagues and their surviving families (NZ  sent 3,980 mainly non-combatant, engineer troops, to serve in the Vietnam war).

environmental problems of pesticide/herbicide compounds. However legal measures for a Law of Ecocide for non-war situations were stopped by several nations some years later (see the website for more details of how the law of Ecocide had arisen as an International Crime against Peace at the end of the 1970s).

Also in South America, one of the most important cases against corporate ecocide is ongoing, the multinational petrochemical Even so, legal minds have for Chevron is facing $18 billion in some decades further examined redress to thousands of the idea of extending a legal duty indigenous peoples whose of care to the non-human world, livelihoods and waters were such as in the work and landmark affected by Chevron’s disregard book by US law lecturer and of the gross and poisonous researcher, Christopher Stone, pollution it was creating (see who wrote in 1972 Should Trees for details of have Standing? – law, morality this case – Chevron has engaged and the environment. 64 law firms trying to overturn this decision!). And nature-based rights are developing in New Zealand

Nature-based rights development

I was startled last August, while back in NZ to see that NZ’s third largest river, the Whanganui river, was granted legal standing from long years of work from Maori tribes and other river stakeholders.

While the NZ military situation is an example of legal retrospective redress for gross war-time ecocide, developments since the 1960s to bring the crime of ecocide into non-military situations have evolved slowly. Surprisingly there was much talk and legal efforts in bringing ecocide forward as a crime in non-war situations in the early 1970s due to the huge public awareness of the situation in Vietnam (many scientists signed an international petition to try and stop Agent Orange use during the Vietnam war) and the publication of Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring book alerted many to the long term


Often nature-rights legislation is evolving with lawyers working with indigenous peoples, peoples who have not forgotten their nature-centred worldviews that respects all life, fundamentally ensures long term sustainability for all species.

Landmark nature-rights book, Should Trees have Standing?, first published in 1972; now in 3rd edition, 2010, Oxford Uni. Press, USA

In recent years I have also noticed some nations in South America are leading the way for the ‘rights of nature’ to be legally recognised in their countries’ constitutional framework (for e.g Ecuador).

This river has a particular connection to my mother’s family as our Great Grandmother was an early European settler in the northern reaches of this river. Incidentally I created a book on her paintings with my mother a few years ago – my great grandmother witnessed and painted both the beauty and the rampant deforestation by early European settlers way back in the 1890s near this river.


An online book of my great Grandmother’s 1890s paintings of the New Zealand Whanganui River. A river ecosystem that since 2012 is now one of the first in the world to have achieved legal agreement that ‘recognises the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, and makes it a legal entity with rights and interests, and the owner of its own river bed.’ http://

Also last September I noticed that The Green Party of England and Wales had unanimously adopted a motion to support a motion against ecocide. I made a promise to myself back then that I would at some stage attempt to bring it to the attention to the Irish and New Zealand Green Parties in a hope it would spread across political and public domains.

Law against corporate ecocide and nature-based rights could prevent fracking and other ecosystem destruction

While Polly Higgins has been tackling ecocide law at an international/UN level, I was excited to read Thomas Linzey also describe how modern law often legally enables ecocide and how despite the best of intentions, environmentalism has largely failed. I was even more We the People 2.0 excited to read how Thomas was 58275397 is a trailer from an upcoming working from the ground up, documentary film from Thomas Linzey on the work that the CELDF assisting grass-root local organisation is undertaking (note, you’ll communities across the United see the NZ Whanganui River rights case States, to stop fracking and other briefly highlighted in this trailer too). forms of pollution or degradation Thomas’ groundbreaking plenary 30 min speech from a US Bioneers conference in their areas by fundamentally is also worth listening to, see here) . changing the legal framework in regards to their local If you are involved in local environments. politics, concerned about fracking or other types of Thomas Linzey is founder of the environmental destruction, I Community Environment Legal would also recommend you Defense Fund (CELDF), an watch the more detailed video organisation which since 1995 below has been assisting and educating 60490244 by Thomas on how ordinary concerned citizens in this area of legal reform is towns and municipalities to fight developing swiftly across many for new nature/community based US states. rights. In recent months, its been great to see on the website, both Polly’s and Thomas’s new legal ideas and work are beginning to influence local and international law (see http:// )

On the CELDF website Land and water degradation – gas and coal extraction, sewage ( you can also see how rights based successes are sludge, factory farms, massive water withdrawals, landfills, and spreading across the US, with some communities having more could be addressed success in preventing fracking in Over the last few months, I was their localities. fortunate to come across a new book Earth at Risk (Dec, 2012) from leading US author/activist/ deep green philosopher Derrick Jensen. In it I read a fascinating interview by Derrick with US lawyer Thomas Linzey.


Higgins and Linzey’s work acknowledges that ecocide is a crime and a move to install nature/community based rights are important and urgent In my own writings I point out that ecocide isn’t just happening in the Arctic or the Amazon, that the slow violence of ecocide, in our culture and local environments, threads its way through our everyday lives. Personally I have a great interest


in forests, I live in one and to me, short rotation monoculture tree plantations are a form of ecocide, leading to eventual soil fertility collapse and limiting severely resilient ecosystems from developing. The very opposite of an ecosystem thriving sustainably in the long term. My research will continue to show alternatives to industrial forestry. Perhaps one day I might even fight for legal standing for the small forest in which I live, a living community that supports me and which I am interdependently connected to. ________________________ My thanks to my family, Carlow Law lecturer John Tully, former Green Minster for Equality, Mary White, Cllr. Malcolm Noonan, Dr. Paul O’Brien, Martin Lyttle, Dr. Rhys Jones, Alan Price, Duncan Russell, Nicola Brown, John Hogan, Mary Rice and others for enthusiastically supporting my work and the proposing of this motion.

You can help make Ecocide history in the EU - one million signatures are needed this year

The Motion that I presented and which was unanimously adopted on 13 April 2013 in Galway by The Green Party of Ireland and Northern Ireland:

There is a new European Citizen's Initiative to End Ecocide in Europe this year. If one million signatures are collected, a public hearing must be held in the European Parliament, and the Commission must consider the citizen's proposal. Three MEP's were the first to sign! So please take a minute to sign the online petition ( and tell your friends and family to sign and share too. This Citizen's Initiative will call for a new EU law prohibiting 'ecocide on European territory, or ecocide committed by a European company or European Citizen in Europe and elsewhere. It also bans the import into the EU of products that have caused ecocide during their production. This could range from cosmetics that use palm oil from deforested rainforest regions to electronic goods that contain rare metals mined illegally in Indigenous territories. The Law of Ecocide would create a legal duty of care upon CEOs and heads of state to be legally responsible for the prevention of ecocide: they would not be permitted to produce a product if it resulted in the decimation of any ecosystem. A draft Ecocide Act has been written, and a concept paper, 'Closing the Door to Dangerous Industrial Activity', has been submitted to all governments within the EU'.

‘The Irish Green Party supports the proposition that a crime of ecocide be created in international law, as a crime against nature, humanity and future generations, to be defined as ‘the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants (human and nonhuman) of that territory has been or will be severely diminished’; and that the proposed crime of ecocide be formally recognised as a Crime against Peace subject to the jurisdiction of the Remember, ecocide is a crime; a crime International Criminal Court.’ ________________________

against humanity, against nature, future generation and fundamentally it is a crime against peace.

Sign and share the petitions, at AVAAZ, Wish20 Eradicating Ecocide also the End Ecocide in Europe (if you live in Europe).



A new End Ecocide in Ireland initiative has started, please check

Notes on redress for Vietnam veterans and their children in NZ fref=ts

In December 2006, the New Zealand Government,


A video has also been made to help engage young people to sign and share the end ecocide petitions feature=player_embedded&v=j1uTDE5ta yQ

the Ex-Vietnam Services Association (EVSA) and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA) agreed to, and signed, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) following the recommendations of the Joint Working Group, designated with advocacy for Veteran’s concerns. [7] The MoU provides formal acknowledgement of the toxic environment New Zealand Vietnam Veterans faced during their service abroad in Vietnam, and the after-effects of that toxin since the service men and women returned to New Zealand. The MoU also makes available various forms of support, to both New Zealand Vietnam Veterans and their families.[8] New Zealand writer and historian, Deborah Challinor, includes a new chapter in her second edition release of Grey Ghosts: New Zealand Vietnam Veterans Talk About Their War that discusses the handling of the New Zealand Vietnam Veterans’ claims, including the Reeves, McLeod and Health Committee reports, and the reconciliation/welcome parade on Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 2008, also known as ‘Tribute 08ʹ′.[9] From 1962 until 1987, the 2,4,5T herbicide was manufactured at an Ivon Watkins-Dow plant in Paritutu, New Plymouth NZ, which was then shipped to U.S. military bases in South East Asia. [10][11][12] There have been continuing claims that the suburb of Paritutu has also been polluted. [13][14] See more at Veteran’s Affairs (VANZ) Website for NZ veterans and their childern’s welfare


Profile for Cathy Fitzgerald

Eradicating Ecocide in Ireland to make sustainability legal  

“If you are interested in stopping fracking and other environmental destruction, a Law of Ecocide and nature-based rights are developing in...

Eradicating Ecocide in Ireland to make sustainability legal  

“If you are interested in stopping fracking and other environmental destruction, a Law of Ecocide and nature-based rights are developing in...

Profile for cathyart

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