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Belgian Parliament votes in favour of recognition of crime of ecocide at national and international levels

On 2 December 2021, the Belgian Federal Parliament (Chambre des représentants / Kamer van volksvertegenwoordigers) adopted by a large majority a resolution proposed by the country’s green political parties (Ecolo-Groen) aiming at recognising the crime of ecocide in Belgian and international criminal laws.

Federal Parliament’s Resolution

More precisely, the Parliament requests the Belgian Federal Government to:

  • consider whether, in light of the opinion to be delivered by experts, the crime of ecocide could be included in Belgian criminal law, and to report on this matter to the Belgian Federal Parliament;
  • support the initiative of the State of Vanuatu and the Maldives to amend the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in The Hague to include the crime of ecocide (along with crimes against humanity);
  • determine the diplomatic initiatives that could be taken to propose, on behalf of Belgium, amendments to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to include the crime of ecocide; and
  • propose that Belgium take the initiative to create a group of pilot States in charge of preparing the drafting of a new international convention on the repression of the crime of ecocide and to propose its negotiation at the international level, in order to implement the principle of complementarity on which the Rome Statute is based.

The Resolution further states that Belgium could use the universal definition of the crime of ecocide developed in 2021 by the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide (the “Ecocide Panel”), and intended to be adopted by the International Criminal Court to prosecute the most egregious offences against the environment. Under such definition, ecocide stands for “any unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”.

The ball is now in the court of the Belgian Federal Government, which had already previously pleaded for examining the possibility to introduce ecocide in the Rome Statute at the December 2020 Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute.

International and European contexts

The Belgian resolution has been presented as a “European first” in favour of the recognition of ecocide at international level since Vanuatu and the Maldives – which have been particularly affected by climate change and disasters in view of their geographical conditions – had already been advocating the same.

In January 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the matter affirming “[…] its support to the nascent normative efforts at international level in relation to environmental crimes” and that it “encourages the EU and the Member States to promote the recognition of ecocide as an international crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC)”. 

However, the European Commission stopped short of proposing the adoption of ecocide in its proposal for a new Directive on Environmental Crime published on 15 December 2021 and instead (in the Communication published alongside the legislative proposal) it has said that it will "closely follow international developments concerning the definition of and possible responses to ecocide".

In addition, in the context of the adoption of France’s Climate Change Act of 22 August 2021 (formally, Act n° 2021-1104 of 22 August 2021 combating climate change and building resilience to its effects), the French Parliament requested the French Government to report, within one year of the promulgation of the Act, “on its action in favour of the recognition of ecocide as a crime that can be tried by international criminal courts” (Article 296).

The same French Act introduced ecocide into French criminal law, by modifying the French Environmental Code. Following this modification, Articles L-231-1 to L-231-3 target two offences, subject to imprisonment up to 10 years and a fine of up to EUR 4.5 million (which may be increased up to ten times the benefit derived from the commission of the offence), namely:

  • when done intentionally, the “act, in a manifestly deliberate breach of a particular duty of care or safety laid down by law or regulation, of emitting into the air, throwing, discharging or allowing to flow into surface or underground waters or into the waters of the sea within the limits of territorial waters, directly or indirectly, one or more substances whose action or reactions result in serious and lasting harmful effects on health, flora, fauna”; and
  • when done intentionally and causing serious and lasting damage to health, flora, fauna, air, soil or water quality, the “act of abandoning, depositing or causing to be deposited waste under conditions contrary to [the applicable rules on the subject], and the act of managing waste [...] without complying with the requirements concerning the characteristics, quantities, technical conditions for taking charge of the waste and the treatment processes implemented laid down [by law]”.

The push towards the recognition of ecocide was less successful in the UK. In June 2021, amendments to the Environment Bill aiming at introducing ecocide into English law (using the Ecocide Panel’s definition) and supporting its introduction to the Rome Statute were rejected.


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