CEOs in legal crosshairs for environmental crimes

The International Criminal Court has decided to expand its focus to investigate environmental crimes. Company executives, politicians and other individuals could now be held responsible for crimes linked to land grabbing and environmental destruction.

Global Witness called last week’s announcement by the International Criminal Court (ICC) a “critical first step” in the crackdown on violence and theft in the global trade in land and natural resources, one that could reshape how business is done in developing countries.

According to Global Witness, an area the size of Germany has been leased to investors in developing countries since 2000 for resource extraction activities, leading to millions of people being evicted from their land – illegally and often violently. In 2015 more than three people were murdered per week defending their land. Conflicts over mining were the leading cause of killings, followed by agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging.

“Chasing communities off their land and trashing the environment has become an accepted way of doing business in many resource-rich yet cash-poor countries,” said Gillian Caldwell, executive director at Global Witness.

He said that the ICC’s decision shows that “the age of impunity” is now coming to an end. “Company bosses and politicians complicit in violently seizing land, razing tropical forests or poisoning water sources could soon find themselves standing trial in the Hague alongside war criminals and dictators.”

Since it was established 14 years ago, the ICC has focused almost exclusively on crimes committed during armed conflict. Last week’s decision now opens the door to investigating mass atrocities committed in the name of profit that occur during peacetime, explains Global Witness.

“The ICC announcement sends a powerful message that the terrible impacts of land grabbing and environmental destruction have been acknowledged at the highest level of criminal justice,” said Gillian Caldwell, Global Witness CEO. She urges national governments and legislators to follow suit by strengthening land rights in countries that sell land and have them respected by the companies investing in them.


Image credit: Wakx, flickr/Creative Commons

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