Criminalising Ecocide 

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) sets out four of the most grievous international crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.  

Vanuatu is spearheading international efforts to amend the Rome State to include “Ecocide” as a fifth international crime, which would help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious environmental and climate crimes, as well as deter destructive practices, protect vital ecosystems and catalyse positive systems change.  

During the 2005 United Nations World Summit, heads of state and government accepted the responsibility of every state to protect its population from four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing


The International Criminal Court (ICC) created to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes affecting the international community, builds on the Geneva Conventions and its protocol, which were designed specifically to define the rules that apply during armed conflicts.  The ICC, and the four crimes of the Rome Statute, however, do not cover the widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment caused by activities outside the context of an armed conflict. 


These crimes were created as a result of wars in Europe, however, and are not historically applicable to Pacific nations.  Human-induced climate change, on the other hand, is directly negatively impacting the lives and human rights of Pacific people, and is the direct result of massive environmental destruction including massive carbon emissions undertaken by other state parties. 


Vanuatu has been at the forefront of efforts to raise awareness of the need for “Ecocide” to become a fifth international crime under the Rome Statute.  The implementation of ecocide as an international criminal law would assist to:

a.  protect climate vulnerable territories globally from ecological, climate and cultural ecocide;

b. prevent Carbon Major dangerous industrial activity; and

c.  prohibit State sanctioned commercial Ecocide.


In 2021, an Independent Expert Panel convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation announced a proposed consensus definition of ecocide, as follows:

·       “Ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.


To muster sufficient international support for amendment of the Rome Statute at the ICC’s Assembly of State Parties, Vanuatu is working alongside Belgium and other states in a broad Coalition of Environment Ministers for the inclusion of the Crime of Ecocide into the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. 

For Ecocide to be added to the Rome Statute, a text must be agreed by at least ⅔ of states parties to the Statute.  Vanuatu is calling for the creation of a Special Working Group on Ecocide by the Assembly of State Parties to the International Criminal Court.