St Mark’s member Niall Urquhart lit our Chalice on 28 April with these words in memory of Polly Higgins who died on 21 April, and to affirm the need to carry on the work to which she dedicated her life - the struggle to have ecocide accepted as a crime under international law.
Following the Second World War, the first session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that ‘affirmed’ that genocide was a crime under international law and it went on to define it as the denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, and a denial of the right to live of individual human beings.
In the 1970s, following the Vietnam War, there were calls for ecocide, the mass damage and destruction of the Earth, to become a crime under international law and for the creation of a legal duty of care for all inhabitants that have been or are at risk of being significantly harmed due to ecocide.
It is now becoming increasingly evident that the greatest threat to all life on earth is the threat of ecocide. We are reminded of the fatal impacts of climate change and environmental destruction on an almost daily basis. The need for a legal duty of care for the earth and its inhabitants has never been clearer.
Born and raised in the west of Scotland, Polly Higgins made it her mission for 15 years to have the United Nations and the International Criminal Court recognise ecocide as a crime under international law. Recalling the response of RBS’s CEO in the first meeting after the Government bailed the bank out as to “Why are you financing the destruction of the Athabasca tar sands?” she recalled that he laughed and said “It’s not a crime is it?” Polly made it her mission to make such actions a crime and set out the rationale in her seminal book ‘Eradicating Ecocide’. Her second book, ‘Earth is our Business’ contained a draft Ecocide Act and model indictments against those who destroy the environment on which all life depends for survival. She was named one of the world’s top 10 visionary thinkers by Ecologist magazine.
Polly died of cancer a week ago today, aged 50. She died at a time when her call is being taken up by Extinction Rebellion, whose actions around the world demand the establishment of a law against ecocide, and when support for the introduction of an international law on ecocide is rapidly gaining traction across the world.
However, Polly’s vision continues to face strong opposition. In September 2018, John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, denounced the prospective ecocide law in a Washington speech, warning that the aim was to “intimidate US decision makers and others in democratic societies”, despite the US not being a member of the ICC.
Before she died she told George Monbiot that
“If this is my time to go, my legal team will continue undeterred. But there are millions who care so much and feel so powerless about the future, and I would love to see them begin to understand the power of this one, simple law to protect the Earth – to realise it’s possible, even straightforward. I wish I could live to see a million Earth Protectors standing for it – because I believe they will.”