Should ecocide be criminalised?

Less than a year after winning a hard-fought election against Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s ruling PSOL party wants far-reaching legislation to tackle deliberate and sustained damage to ecosystems. 

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva entered office in October 2022, winning a majority for the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL) party. The result was widely welcomed by advocates of free speech, social equality and justice, environmental protection and climate action. Under the previous Government, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest rose sharply, as did attacks on activists and indigenous leaders. 

Now, a new Ecocide Bill has been submitted to congress, proposing laws to criminalise ‘performing illegal or wanton acts with the knowledge that they generate substantial probability of serious and widespread or long-term damage to the environment.’ Similar legislation has been put forward in other regions, including the EU, with the international definition of ecocide, as per the Independent Expert Panel convened in 2021 by the Stop Ecocide Foundation, forming the basis for what constitutes the offence. 

‘The proposal of this bill in Brazil is timely and important, and will reinforce the growing global movement towards recognition of ecocide at the international level,’ said Jojo Mehta, co-founder and Executive Director of Stop Ecocide International. 

‘The Amazon is one of the most important and endangered biomes on the planet with respect to biodiversity as well as the water, weather and climate systems of the Earth,’ he continued. ‘This law will provide much needed protection.  It will also strongly support the rights of indigenous communities to continue to live and practice harmonious relationship with and guardianship of the forest, from which we have much to learn.’

If passed, the Bill could form a key part of Brazil’s ecological defense and counteroffensive against groups, gangs, businesses and multinational corporations that have now destroyed around 18% of the country’s Amazon cover so far. However, the real impact of such laws is difficult to predict. Activities such as logging already take place in areas supposedly off-limits, breaking existing laws designed to prevent the practice. Noting the phrasing is important, with words like ‘wanton’ used in addition to ‘illegal’ and a focus on proving parties knew about environmental impact potentially making this a more robust piece of legislation than already exists. 

More on the Amazon and environmental protection: 

Giving rivers and communities a voice: Environmental Law Foundation


Fly-tipping to money laundering: The environmental crime nexus

Environmental defenders: The activists risking their lives to protect the planet

Two bodies found in search for missing environmentalists in Brazil

New images reveal illegal deforestation in the Amazon

Image: Suzan Petersen



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