My copy of Polly Higgins’ “Eradicating Ecocide” has now arrived, and it is next on my pile of things to read. In anticipation, I have been exploring the “Eradicating Ecocide” website, and reading about the proposed law – which in brief (i) proposes that ecocide should be considered to be a crime against peace, and (ii) creates an international duty of care to prevent the risk or realization of damage to ecosystems. The idea of legislating for this has apparently been around for decades now, and Polly Higgins’ draft law has been with the UN since 2010. So far, no decision appears to have been made.
In making these early explorations, I was reminded of Samantha Power’s gripping book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”, which in part charts the tireless campaign of an individual called Raphael Lemkin to make genocide a crime. Though Lemkin (who himself had lost 49 relatives in the Holocaust) first created the word “genocide” in 1943, and though the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide became law in 1951, the US did not ratify the Convention until 1988. As Power explains so vividly, the US prevaricated over the issue for more than forty years, and displayed a continued reluctance to take action when it was needed (including, very famously, over the heinous crimes committed in Cambodia).
I appreciate, of course, that new international laws must be scrutinised with the greatest of care before they are implemented – but as I think back on Power’s words, the sluggishness of Western countries over the issue of climate change seems to have many parallels with the way in which acts of genocide were handled during the last century. In both cases, unjustified delays had the potential to lead to catastrophe.
Power ultimately closes her book with the following – which I think I ought to keep in mind as I begin to read Higgins’ work.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” After a century of doing so little to prevent, suppress, and punish genocide, Americans must join and thereby legitimate the ranks of the unreasonable.