Fifteen years ago Polly Higgins abandoned her career as a barrister to campaign for an international crime of ecocide. Sadly she died of cancer on Easter Sunday at the early age of 50.
Her aim in making ecocide an international crime was to enable people like company chief executives and government ministers to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for causing or contributing to large-scale ecosystem destruction.
In her research on the subject she discovered that the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC, had originally included the crime of ecocide, but that it had been dropped at the final drafting stage. She set out to see that this “missing” crime was reinstated alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression, and submitted a proposal to the UN Law Commission in 2010 that defined ecocide as “extensive loss, damage to or destruction of ecosystems of a given territory, such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished”.
Polly’s first book, Eradicating Ecocide: Laws and Governance to Prevent the Destruction of Our Planet (2010), won the 2010-11 People’s Book Prize and set out her full proposal, while her second book, Earth Is Our Business (2012), included a draft Ecocide Act and indictments that had been used in a mock trial in the UK Supreme Court with Michael Mansfield QC prosecuting. Read the full obituary in the Guardian.