Elaine Pearson, the Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said the accounts shared with researchers are disturbing and appears to be escalating in intensity and frequency.
“For instance, one person told us of how they were stripped naked, forced to undergo a medical examination, electroshocked and beaten while interrogated.”
In another account, the 53-page report details how his solitary confinement punishment for resisting political education efforts involved him being forced to stand for 24 hours without sleep, with no food or water, and handcuffed in a two-by-two metre cell.
Countries urged to pursue prosecution for crimes against humanity
The report said the available evidence at this stage meets the legal criteria for crimes against humanity, but falls short of genocide.
“We haven’t documented ourselves genocidal intent, but crimes against humanity are extremely serious crimes,” Ms Pearson said.
“And this report does not rule out a finding of genocide by others in the future. I think one thing to remember access to Xinjiang is extremely limited.” The rights group is urging an independent United Nations investigation in Xinjiang to verify what is happening.
Adelaide Uighurs concerned over new Chinese consulate
Adelaide Uighurs concerned over new Chinese consulate
China has denied allegations of abuse and genocide, blaming “anti-China forces” for “some distorted coverage” in Western media.
Chinese officials said the detention facilities for Uighurs are vocational training centres aimed at deradicalising terrorists.
Renewed push for Australia to announce sanctions
The European Union, United States and Canada have announced sanctions against Chinese officials, with China responding with sanctions of its own.
Chinese ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye earlier this month warned Australia against imposing any sanctions, even as Labor’s foreign affairs minister Penny Wong renewed calls for such action.
In a speech overnight in Hobart, she called for the implementation of a legal framework for targeted sanctions against human rights perpetrators, similar to the US’ Magnitsky Act.
“Implementing Magnitsky sanctions and playing our part in ending modern slavery are concrete actions that Australia can take to change the world for the better,” she said in her address to the Australian Institute of International Affairs.
Australia, among other countries, is being urged by Human Rights Watch to pursue prosecution of crimes against humanity under “universal jurisdiction”, which allows countries to prosecute crimes like torture committed against their nationals overseas.
Australian permanent resident sentenced to 25 years in Xinjiang jail
It comes as an Australian permanent resident, 26-year-old Mirzat Taher, is sentenced to 25 years for alleged “separatism” relating time spent in Turkey.
His wife, Melbourne-born Mehray Mezensof, said the sentence is baseless and she has concerns for his safety.
The Australian government said it is limited to providing consular support to Australian citizens only.
Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, said the case is an extreme example.
“[The sentence is] absolutely horrifying and gobsmacking: a 25-year sentence. That’s really at the outer limit of what we’ve documented, except for people who have been given life sentences.”
She said pressure needs to be brought bear to secure Mirzat Taher’s release.
“One recommendation we have made over the years is that governments that have citizens or legal permanent residents, who are themselves detained, or who have family members who are detained – that hopefully governments will really go to bat especially for those kinds of cases.”
Elaine Pearson said there have been a growing number of examples of Uighur activists being handed prison sentences, ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment, for acts deemed by Chinese officials to be separatist activities.
“We’ve seen other examples of Uighur families who have travelled to Turkey; who haven’t committed any other offences, but perhaps received household goods or a musical instrument; and on the basis of that, they have been sentenced to 11 to 23 years in prison.”
Ms Pearson said there is a precedent for the Australian government to act in cases involving Australian permanent residents, including the case of footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi.
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by WorldTribune Staff, March 22, 2021 Newly released photos from inside a Team Biden border shelter show the conditions migrants who are enticed by Joe Biden’s open border policies are forced to endure. Texas Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar, who released images from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility in Donna, Texas to Axios, denounced […]
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Two people were tied up, tortured for hours, then locked inside a 2-metre metal toolbox, before being plunged into the depths of a murky Logan dam, south of Brisbane — where they would remain for 18 days.
The pair screamed and begged for their lives until they finally died in a “cold watery grave”.
This week, after five years, two full trials, and several other lengthy court proceedings, everyone who played a role in the murders of Iuliana Triscaru and Cory Breton, learned their punishment.
In 2016, desperate relatives of Ms Triscaru, 31, and Mr Breton, 28, made an appeal to the public, pleading for help to find their loved ones who had not been seen since January 24.
Less than a week later, police divers found their decomposing bodies inside a locked toolbox in Scrubby Creek.
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In one unverified graphic image, a body can be seen with the head blown apart and brain remnants spilled onto the road.
“He said it’s worth dying for,” she said. “He is worried about people not joining the protest. If so, democracy will not return to the country.”
At least 80 people have been killed since the military invalidated the results of the country’s democratic election, the United Nations human rights office said, and hundreds more injured. At least four of the deaths in recent days were individuals arrested and detained by the junta, including two officials with the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) party. All four died in custody, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
More than 2,000 people have been arbitrarily detained since the coup, according to AAPP, many of them kept out of contact from family and friends, their condition or whereabouts unknown.
CNN cannot independently verify the arrest numbers or death toll from AAPP.
Myanmar’s state run daily newspaper published a notice on Wednesday reinforcing the military’s narrative that it is using minimum force against protesters.
On Thursday, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that a “growing body of reporting” indicates the junta’s security forces are committing “acts of murder, imprisonment, persecution and other crimes as part of a coordinated campaign, directed against a civilian population, in a widespread and systematic manner, with the knowledge of the junta’s leadership.”
The “brutal response,” he said, is “thereby likely meeting the legal threshold for crimes against humanity.”
He called on UN member states to stop the flow of revenue and weapons to the junta, saying multilateral sanctions “should be imposed” on senior leaders, military-owned and controlled enterprises and the state energy firm, Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.
His statement came after rights group Amnesty International released a report saying the military were embarking on a “killing spree” in Myanmar, using increasingly lethal tactics and weapons normally seen on the battlefield against peaceful protesters and bystanders.
By verifying more than 50 videos from the ongoing crackdown, Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab confirmed security forces appear to be implementing planned, systematic strategies, including the ramped-up use of lethal force, indiscriminate spraying of live ammunition in urban areas, and that many of the killings documented amount to extrajudicial executions.
“These Myanmar military tactics are far from new, but their killing sprees have never before been livestreamed for the world to see,” said Joanne Mariner, director of crisis response at Amnesty International. “These are not the actions of overwhelmed, individual officers making poor decisions. These are unrepentant commanders already implicated in crimes against humanity, deploying their troops and murderous methods in the open.
Fleeing to India
There is evidence the violence is forcing people to flee the country. Between 200 and 300 people have crossed the border from Myanmar into India’s northeastern state of Mizoram, fleeing the unrest, Mizoram’s chief minister told CNN.
That number includes police, civil servants, their family members, and other civilian and the number of people fleeing increases daily, according Chief Minister PU Zoramthanga.
“We (the Mizoram government) are not sending them back as a humanitarian point of view. When somebody enters the land, the country’s border, for fear of their lives we cannot simply send them back. They are not criminals. It is a political issue,” he said.
Zormanthanga added that people are given food and shelter, and many have family in Mizoram. He said it is up to the Indian central government on how to deal with people crossing the border.
Suu Kyi accused of bribery
Ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was accused of bribery and corruption by the military Thursday, adding to four charges already against her that could result in a years-long prison sentence.
Military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said in a news conference that Suu Kyi accepted illegal payments worth $600,000, as well as gold, while in government, according to Reuters.
The spokesperson added that the information had been verified following a complaint from a former Yangon regional minister, and an anti-corruption committee was investigating.
Suu Kyi’s lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw told CNN “the allegations are a complete fabrication.”
“I have been in politics in Myanmar for nearly 40 years, and in all these years I have not witnessed such shameless allegations” he said. “We are in a country where the people have seen lots of corruption in the past and many misbehaviors, but Aung San Suu Kyi is not in that sphere of corruption.”
He added that while he has had “many disagreements” with Suu Kyi, “when it comes corruption, bribery, greed — this is not her, she is not that kind of woman.”
Along with Suu Kyi, ousted President Win Myint, his wife, and several cabinet ministers were being investigated for allegedly asking for and accepting “money from some entrepreneurs,” the spokesperson said, without clarifying, according to Reuters.
Suu Kyi and Win Myint remain under house arrest.
The military, headed by coup-leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, took full control of the country last month, ousting Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government, which had won a landslide in November 2020 elections.
The army justified its action by alleging widespread voter fraud in that poll — only the second democratic vote since the previous military junta began a series of reforms in 2011.
In a video statement played to the UN Human Rights Council, Myanmar’s permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Chan Aye said: “In recent days, authorities concerned have been paying attention to maintaining law and order in the country,” and “authorities have been exercising utmost restraint to deal with the violent protests.”
Chan Aye also said the military leadership remains committed to “free and fair multiparty democratic elections.”
But speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN, said the country doesn’t need fresh elections as the last poll was free and fair.
His comments came after the 15 countries of the UN Security Council unanimously backed the strongest statement since the coup, saying it “strongly condemns the violence against peaceful protestors” and called on the military to “exercise utmost restraint.”
UN diplomats told CNN that China, Russia, and Vietnam objected to tougher language calling events “a coup” and in one draft forced the removal of language that would have threatened further action, potentially sanctions.
In a statement, China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, said “it is important the Council members speak in one voice. We hope the message of the Council would be conducive to easing the situation in Myanmar.”
Kyaw Moe Tun said the message “does not meet the peoples’ expectation,” saying up against the brutality of the military “we all feel helpless” and called on the international community for protection.
CNN’s Sarita Harilela, Vedika Sud, Richard Roth and Radina Gigova contributed reporting.
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The shootings came with many Asian-Americans already on edge following a recent spike in hate crimes against the community, and triggered immediate fears that Asian-run businesses may have been deliberately targeted.
Four of the victims were killed at Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth, a suburb of Georgia state capital Atlanta, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County sheriff’s office told the paper the victims were two Asian women, a white woman, and a white man, while a Hispanic man was wounded.
Adriana Mejia, a niece of one of the victims, said the family was “devastated” after her uncle was shot and that they were praying for his recovery.
“We never know when we’re at the wrong place at the wrong time because this was so all of a sudden,” she said.
Police separately confirmed that four women had been killed in attacks on two other spas in the northeast of the city.
Describing the scene in northeast Atlanta, the city police department said: “Upon arrival, officers located three females deceased inside the location from apparent gunshot wounds.”
While on the scene, officers were advised of shots fired across the street, where they found a fourth female victim.
Police told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that all four were Asian women.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported the country’s foreign ministry had confirmed that four of the victims were of Korean descent.
Authorities have identified Robert Aaron Long as a suspect in all three shootings.
Based on the pattern of surveillance video from the shooting scenes, Atlanta police spokesman Sergeant John Chafee told AFP: “It is extremely likely our suspect is the same as Cherokee County’s, who is in custody.”
“We are working closely with them to confirm with certainty our cases are related,” he added.
Mr Long was taken into custody after a “brief pursuit” about 240 kilometres from Atlanta, according to a statement by the Georgia Department of Safety on Facebook.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation was assisting in the investigation, a spokesman told AFP.
‘Once again we see that hate is deadly’
The shootings come as reports of attacks against Asian-Americans, primarily elders, have spiked in recent months — fuelled during the COVID-19 pandemic, activists believe, by talk of the “Chinese virus” by former president Donald Trump and others.
News of the shootings came just hours after the release of a report by the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate suggested a marked increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans, with women disproportionately affected.
Few details have been released, including whether or not the shootings were related or motivated by hate. But right now there is a great deal of fear and pain in the Asian American community that must be addressed.
In a tally of incidents reported to the group between March 2020 and February this year, almost 70 percent of Asian-American survey respondents said they had faced verbal harassment and just over one in 10 said they had experienced physical assault.
Georgia is home to nearly 500,000 Asian residents, or just over four percent of its population, according to the Asian American Advocacy Fund.
Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock condemned the violence in a tweet late Tuesday.
“My heart is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives. Once again we see that hate is deadly,” he said.
“Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community.”
My heart is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives. Once again we see that hate is deadly. Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community.
The Democratic party in the state called Tuesday’s shooting spree “horrifying.”
“As details continue to emerge, this attack sadly follows the unacceptable pattern of violence against Asian Americans that has skyrocketed throughout this pandemic,” said Congresswoman Nikema Williams, who is also the state party’s chairwoman.
In an address to the nation last Thursday, President Joe Biden forcefully condemned what he called “vicious hate crimes against Asian-Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.”
“It’s wrong. It’s un-American. And it must stop,” he said.
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“My office will take the same principled, non-partisan, approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized.”
Bensouda, who will be replaced by British prosecutor Karim Khan on June 16, said in December 2019 that “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip”.
The UN recognises the Occupied Palestinian Territories as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip – disputed territory claimed by Israel.
She named both the Israeli Defence Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.
The next step will be to determine whether Israeli or Palestinian authorities have investigations themselves and to assess those efforts.
Israel’s government on Wednesday called the court “morally and legally bankrupt”.
“The decision to open an investigation against Israel is an exception to the mandate of the tribunal, and a waste of the international community’s resources by a biased institution that has lost all legitimacy,” Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said.
There was no immediate comment from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When the court ruled on jurisdiction, he said: “When the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes, this is pure anti-semitism.”
The Palestinian Authority welcomed the prosecutor’s investigation.
It is “a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve”, the Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The Islamist militant group Hamas defended its own actions in the conflict.
“We welcome the ICC decision to investigate Israeli occupation war crimes against our people. It is a step forward on the path of achieving justice,” Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said.
Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said ICC member countries needed to stand by to fiercely protect the court’s work from political pressure.
The ICC is a court of last resort established to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide when a country is unable or unwilling to do so.
The prosecutor’s office was targeted by sanctions under former US President Donald Trump in response to its investigation in Afghanistan, which is examining the role of US forces.
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As the Defence Force continues to deal with the fallout of the Inspector-General’s report, delegates of the Chief of the Army Rick Burr have moved to sack at least three whistleblowers from the Special Air Service Regiment and commandos.
Asked about this process, a Defence spokesperson said: “The fact that some individuals assisted the inquiry is not disputed and regardless of any recommendation the inquiry made, it is ultimately a matter for Defence as to what if any administrative action is taken.”
The spokesperson also said that while termination notices had been issued, the responses from soldiers threatened with sacking would be considered before any final decisions were made.
Defence sources in Canberra, who were not authorised to speak publicly, confirmed that the office of the Inspector-General had been forced to issue “support” letters to help a small number of soldiers who were issued termination notices.
Multiple Defence sources aware of behind-the-scenes efforts to protect whistleblowers said at least two of the soldiers who were issued termination notices allegedly engaged in war crimes on the orders of more senior soldiers, and in both cases, these alleged crimes would never have been discovered without the disclosures, the sources said.
Some soldiers suspected of repeatedly lying about their own involvement in war crimes have also been issued termination notices, but were given no support from the Inspector-General. The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have confirmed this by speaking to more than a dozen serving and former special forces insiders.
In November, General Burr and Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell both publicly praised the role of special forces soldiers who disclosed alleged war crimes to Justice Brereton, who led the Inspector-General’s inquiry.
Justice Brereton ultimately found that Australian special forces soldiers allegedly committed up to 39 murders and recommended that up to 19 current or former soldiers should face criminal investigation, possible prosecution and be stripped of their medals.
Justice Brereton warned in his November report that “too often … have the careers of whistle-blowers been adversely affected”. He urged the Defence Force to promote “cleanskin” whistleblowers – those who had observed or disclosed alleged war crimes but not participated in any alleged summary executions. Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell is yet to act on that recommendation.
Justice Brereton also urged General Campbell and General Burr to consider special treatment for those “whose conduct is such that they cannot be rewarded by promotion, but who, having made disclosures to the Inquiry in protected circumstances when they reasonably believed they would not be used against them, and whose evidence was ultimately of considerable assistance to the Inquiry, ought not fairly be the subject of adverse administrative action”.
“Again, it will be an important signal that they have not been disadvantaged for having ultimately assisted to uncover misconduct, even though implicating themselves.”
When he announced Justice Brereton’s findings in November, General Campbell described being “deeply appreciative of people who came forward to speak with concern of what they had seen, in some cases of what they had participated in”.
“It was a very brave thing for them to do, because in the climate and the culture I have described, they would have been very concerned for doing so,” he said in comments which suggested General Campbell was aware that key whistleblowers had also disclosed their own wrongdoing.
But since then, senior officers working under General Burr’s ultimate command have, in at least three cases, disregarded the advice from the Inspector-General and issued termination notices that inform a soldier they will be sacked unless they provide mitigating circumstances.
The question of how to deal with special forces veterans who have admitted to egregious acts is not simple. Even considering their assistance to the inquiry, their alleged conduct may be so serious that it warrants dismissal. However, that is the same workplace penalty suffered by SAS and commando soldiers who have been found to have repeatedly lied about their own role in war crimes only to have it disclosed by others.
The tension comes amid confusion about how the federal police and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions will work with the new Office of the Special Investigator, which was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in November to help prosecute those accused of war crimes. The Office of the Special Investigator (OSI), led by former Victorian judge Mark Weinberg, is analysing what information from the Brereton inquiry can be used in criminal prosecutions and what must be withheld because it was obtained under a special power that gives immunity to those who confess to wrongdoing.
However, the OSI is at risk of replicating steps already taken by the Australian Federal Police, which was referred war crimes allegations by Justice Brereton in 2018. Federal police agents have spent almost three years investigating former special forces soldier and Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith, who is accused of multiple war crimes, and are also investigating serious allegations against another soldier known as “Soldier C”.
Shifting these investigations to a newly created bureaucracy is potentially fraught if it causes delays, as witnesses’ memories fade or suspects find opportunities to collude. It may also leave some already traumatised witnesses dealing with new investigators with whom they have no prior relationship or who have no corporate investigation knowledge.
Former SAS soldiers said federal police agents had taken statements and built rapport with key witnesses in 2018 and 2019. Official sources in Canberra said it was unclear how many federal agents would be seconded to the new office, although it would involve at least some of the AFP taskforces set up in 2018 to probe war crimes.
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Nick McKenzie is an investigative reporter who has twice been named Australian Journalist of the Year. A winner of ten Walkley Awards, he investigates politics, business, foreign affairs/defence, human rights issues and policing/ criminal justice.
Gold Walkley award-winning journalist and author. He was the first Australian journalist to be embedded with special forces in Afghanistan.
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When a Nigerian judge ruled in 2005 that Shell’s practice of gas flaring in the Niger Delta was a violation of citizens’ constitutional rights to life and dignity, Nnummo Bassey, a local environmental activist, was thrilled.
Bassey’s organization, Friends of the Earth, had helped communities in the Niger Delta sue Shell for gas flaring, a highly polluting practice that caused mass disruption to communities in the region, polluting water and crops. Researchers had found that those disruptions were associated with increased rates of cancer, blood disorders, skin diseases, acid rain, and birth defects—leading to a life expectancy of 41 in the region, 13 years fewer than the national average.
“For the first time, a court of competence has boldly declared that Shell, Chevron and the other oil corporations have been engaged in illegal activities here for decades,” Bassey said on Nov. 14, 2005, the day the Federal High Court of Nigeria announced the ruling. “We expect this judgement to be respected and that for once the oil corporations will accept the truth and bring their sinful flaring activities to a halt.”
Yet the judgement was not respected. A United Nations report published six years later found that Shell had not followed its own procedures regarding the maintenance of oilfield infrastructure. Today, Shell is still gas flaring in the Niger Delta.
In the 15 years since the ruling, Bassey has come to believe that Shell’s executives might have been held accountable had the case gone to the International Criminal Court (ICC). “Shell could ignore [the case] because it wasn’t in the international media but if it had gone to the ICC, it would have gotten global attention and shareholders would have known what the company was doing,” he says. “If we had had an ecocide law, things would have turned out differently.”
The word “ecocide” is an umbrella term for all forms of environmental destruction from deforestation to greenhouse gas emissions. Since the 1970s, environmental advocates have championed the idea of creating an international ecocide law that would be adjudicated in the ICC and would penalize individuals responsible for environmental destruction. But the effort has gained significant traction over the past year, with leaders from Vanuatu, the Maldives, France, Belgium, the Netherlands—as well as influential global figures like Pope Francis and Greta Thunberg—expressing their support. Although there are questions about whether the ICC as an institution has the teeth to prosecute any crimes, Bassey and other activists believe the law will act as a powerful deterrent against future forms of environmental destruction. “We will not get different outcomes in cases of exploitation and marginalisation unless we reimagine the laws that govern us,” Bassey says.
In December 2020, lawyers from around the world gathered to begin drafting a legal definition of ecocide. If they succeed, it would potentially situate environmental destruction in the same legal category as war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. But even within the movement, questions remain on how far the law should go — and who might fall under its jurisdiction.
The history of the ecocide movement
The term ecocide first rose to the public consciousness in 1972, when Olof Palme, the premier of Sweden, used the term at a United Nations environmental conference in Stockholm to describe the environmental damage caused by the Vietnam War. At the conference, an ecocide convention was proposed but never came to pass.
The idea resurfaced again in the 1990s when the ICC, the world’s first permanent international criminal court, was being created. As a court of last resort, the ICC was established not to override national courts but to complement them, creating a global tribunal that would adjudicate the gravest crimes of concern to the international community. When lawyers came together in 1998 to draft the Rome Statute, the founding document of the ICC, there was a law in the pipeline that would have criminalized environmental destruction.
But the law never came about. “My recollection is that there was just no political support for it,” says Philippe Sands, who was involved in drafting the preamble of the Rome Statute in 1998 (and who would go on to co-chair the expert panel formed in 2020 to draft a legal definition of ecocide). Environmental destruction, Sands says, was not on the public’s consciousness.
This began to change in 2017 when Polly Higgins, a British barrister, launched the Stop Ecocide campaign alongside environmental activist Jojo Mehta. Higgins, who sold her home in 2010 to raise funds to combat environmental destruction, wrote an influential book, Eradicating Ecocide, that informed the legal debate. When the campaign launched a few years later, it quickly gained unprecedented momentum: Greta Thunberg donated €100,000 of the money she received from that year’s Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity to the cause, and for the first time in history, several world leaders publicly backed the idea. Fast-forward three years and now, an expert panel of international criminal lawyers is drafting a definition of ecocide. “Six months ago, we never would have believed where we are at now,” says Mehta. Higgins, sadly, never lived to see her campaign bear fruit, dying in 2019 at the age of 50.
Environmental advocates believe an ecocide law at the ICC would be groundbreaking. While some countries have national laws on environmental harm, there is no international criminal law that explicitly imposes penalties on individuals responsible for environmental destruction. If adopted, experts say there are three main areas where an ecocide law would make a difference.
The first is the symbolic impact of having the ICC elevate environmental destruction to the same level as genocidal crimes. Mehta argues that the fear of being labelled an ecocide criminal could create incentives for leaders to behave more responsibly. “A CEO doesn’t want to be seen in the same bracket as a genocidal maniac,” she says.
The second area where this law could make a difference is by setting a legal precedent, creating a bandwagon effect where international law could prompt changes in national criminal laws, as countries look to signal their environmental commitment to others. ICC laws have influenced national policies before: several countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, have adopted national laws that criminalize ICC crimes.
The third way an ecocide law could be useful is by prosecuting environmental crimes that fall outside of national jurisdictions. This is especially helpful in poorer countries where legal barriers make it difficult to hold foreign companies accountable. An ecocide law, Bassey says, would create an arena in which marginalized communities in countries like Nigeria have a voice against powerful, polluting actors. “Most of this ecocide devastation is happening in communities where voices are not heard,” he says.
Advocates of an ecocide law also believe it would change the way the environment is valued. “There is something powerfully urgent about the idea that nature has rights,” says Mitch Anderson, founder and executive director of Amazon Frontlines, an organization that works with Indigenous communities in the Western Amazon to protect their lands. “The [ecocide] law would ensure that nature has a legal voice.”
There’s still a long way to go, though. While lawyers are expected to finish a draft of the law by the end of spring, it will take at least 3 to 5 years before the law might be ratified. Drafting the law is just the first of many steps: a member state needs to propose it to the ICC, at which point, 50% of ICC states have to approve it. States will then need to convene to debate the exact definition of the law before eventually, adopting and ratifying it.
But if passed, an ecocide law would be unique in the ICC’s history, not only because of what it would protect but who it could go after—the heads of countries and corporations that are big polluters. Historically, the ICC has been criticized for targeting only African dictators while turning a blind eye to Western leaders responsible for mass atrocities. But with an ecocide law, powerful white men—who are often disproportionately represented in extractive industries—could face criminal charges. “The ecocide movement is powerful not only in the legal precedent it could set for protecting rivers, forests, oceans and the air but also in the names and faces it identifies as being behind this destruction,” says Anderson. “[They] may not look like the picture we’re used to seeing.”
Oil and gas companies contacted by TIME did not want to comment on whether they support an ecocide law, but the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) said in a statement they “want to further improve the environmental performance and reduce the likelihood and consequences of incident.”
What counts as ecocide?
Bassey is confident that many of the world’s worst environmental offenses —such as Chevron’s pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon in the 1990s or the ongoing coal-seam fires in Witbank, South Africa—could have been prevented had an ecocide law been in place. “If we had an ecocide law, no one would allow this to go on,” he says. In theory, that might be true. But in practice, much depends on how the term is defined.
Sands, the co-chair of the panel drafting the law, is concerned that the bar for what counts as “ecocide” could be set too high. There’s historical precedence for such a scenario: When the idea of “genocide” was first proposed in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer, he envisioned a law that would prosecute individuals that killed members of a national, ethnic, racial, religious or political group. But when member states—many of whom who were worried about their own histories of discrimination—came together to actually draft the law in 1948, they decided that lawyers needed to prove not only that an individual killed members of a group but that they did so with the specific intention to kill.
The result is that most genocide trials heard by the ICC have not ended with a guilty verdict because the burden of proof is too high. Sands is worried the same mistake might be made with the definition of ecocide. “It will never be possible to prove that someone intended to destroy the environment on a massive scale,” he says. “If we set the bar too high, we won’t catch anyone.”
On the other hand, if the bar is set too low—if the ecocide law encompasses too many types of alleged environmentally destructive acts, and implicates too many types of people and institutions—it may lose political support. Many people might get behind an ecocide law that charges mega-corporations for polluting on a grand scale; it is less likely they would support a law that penalizes anyone who destroys the environment in any way. The lawyers drafting the definition didn’t want to offer their opinion on what, specifically, a “low bar” would look like out of concern that doing so would put at risk their ability to advocate for a more robust law.
But even if a robust ecocide law is put in place, the movement faces another big challenge: the limited legal powers of the ICC. On its own, the ICC does not have the authority to enforce laws; it is completely reliant on its member states to arrest and surrender the accused. If a country does not comply—if it does not arrest the accused individual—there is no trial. In addition, over 70 countries are not members—including the United States. Some of the biggest fossil fuel corporations, such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron, are American owned, meaning they would be unlikely to be drawn into a prosecution.
Lawyers working on the ecocide law are acutely aware of these limitations. “Let’s not be starry eyed about our legal international frameworks at the international level,” Sands says. “Let’s be realistic.” Holding perpetrators of environmental destruction to account, he says, must ultimately be done at the national level. Nevertheless, international criminal law can be a tool that catalyzes thinking and helps set a precedent. Although only four people have been convicted at the ICC since it began hearing cases in 2002, the creation of ICC law has influenced national policy through the norms and precedents it helped to generate. Advocates of ecocide believe the law could do something similar.
“We know one law won’t change everything,” says Mehta. “But without something like this in place, it’s hard to see how these [environmental] targets will be met.”
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Reformed youth offender Ben, 19, (whose name has been changed for legal reasons) told the ABC a GPS tracker would not have slowed him down.
“It wouldn’t [have] stopped me from committing crimes,” Ben said.
“I’d get caught, obviously, but it wouldn’t stop me from doing what I did best, what I loved doing, things that were bad.”
Ben has been through the youth justice system multiple times.
Thank you for dropping in to My Local Pages and checking out this news update involving “What’s On in the City of Brisbane” called “GPS tracking ‘wouldn’t have stopped me’ committing crimes, says former Queensland youth offender”. This news article was presented by My Local Pages as part of our QLD holiday news services.
A two-minute Google search will turn up dozens of attempts—including initiatives by lawmakers, religious leaders, and others—to combat hate crimes. Nothing has worked. The Department of Justice and human-rights groups have written exhaustive whitepapers, and justice advocates have spent countless hours over the years discussing hate on panels. Hate crimes have increased in four of the past five years, with 2019 being the deadliest on record for hate crimes, according to FBI statistics. How, I asked Racine during a recent phone conversation, will this effort be any different? It starts at the root, he said: We simply do not have enough data to know the scope of the problem.
“It’s so porous that dozens of people were injured, and Heather Heyer was murdered, in Charlottesville, but if you go back and look at the hate reporting data for Virginia in that year, you won’t find any report of a hate-crime incident coming out of Charlottesville,” he said. “Talk about a gap? That’s a freaking gap.”
The FBI, through a voluntary-reporting system, records roughly 6,000 such crimes a year, but the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that the actual number is closer to 250,000. Shortly after the 2016 election, ProPublica launched an initiative to try to understand how many hate crimes occur in the United States, but its effort ended in 2019. Groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center still catalog some of these crimes, Racine said, but such important data collection should not fall to private organizations. Critics have used the incomplete statistics to suggest that hate crimes are not a problem worth devoting extra resources to, Racine said. If data collection were mandatory and the results reported to every NAAG member’s office, perhaps we would have a more complete picture of the problem. (Racine does not have a plan to do this yet.)
In the video launching Racine’s NAAG presidential initiative, two Republican attorneys general spoke about the pervasiveness of hate crimes. Racine stressed that his group’s hate-crimes project was “bipartisan,” and not about Donald Trump. Though Trump is the latest and perhaps most brash presidential manifestation of the undercurrents of hate in America, he said, hate crimes long predate his rise. Further, if he made the initiative about the outgoing president, “I’d lose half of the room.”
Read: The fight to make meaning out of a massacre
He may have lost half of the room already, because a divided nation can’t agree even on the most basic question of what it means to adequately collect data. Our conversation was postponed for a week because hours before our originally scheduled call, 17 Republican state attorneys general had filed a brief in support of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s unsuccessful attempt to delay the certification of presidential electors in Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. If it is this difficult to agree on as simple a question as who won an election, how can you possibly agree on the importance of something as complex as a solution to hate crimes? I asked.