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Ecocide Law: Religious Perspectives

"A group of people were travelling in a boat. One of them takes a drill and begins to bore a hole. The others ask, 'why are you doing this?' The person replied, 'why are you concerned? Am I not drilling under my own place?' The rest reply, 'but you will flood the boat for all of us!' Imagine being a passenger on this boat."[1] We are all passengers in a boat "Earth", where one wrong action by one can result into serious repercussions for all.

This catastrophic damage can be prevented only by putting in a collective effort. Ecocide Law is the collective effort of the global legal community for protecting the environment. It aims to make environmental wrong a crime within the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

If successfully added, it will become the fifth international crime along with genocide, crime against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. Ecocide is defined as "unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts."[2] The endeavour is propped up by religious leaders. The article is a study of the position of religious leaders on the issue of Ecocide Law.


Defining Ecocide as "green crime", Swami Chidanand Saraswati, president and spiritual head of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, is of the view that declaring ecocide an international crime would be a progressive step towards protecting environment. He considers it the need of the hour. Describing Earth as mother and people as its children he compares ecocide with suicide and genocide. He points out that the children are automatically harmed when the mother is harmed.

According to him, Hinduism is based on the principle of "world as one family" and includes all living beings. Hence, the human beings are merely custodians and not master of nature. On the basis of dharma, as mentioned in the Hindu scripts, he believes that supporting international law in the face of ecological crisis is a dharmic duty of every Hindu.


Although Buddhists are involved in a wide range of activisms through organizations like EcoDharma and XR Buddhists, the Buddhist perspective on ecocide is still in its infancy., Drawing from the Zen Buddhist tradition, David Loy argues that "we must realize that the environment is not simply the place where we live, but rather it is the basis of our lives and our being."[3] He tries to make us conscious of the fact we are nature, not a component of it.

He says, "The environment is not just an "environment," which means that it is not just the place where we happen to be."[4] Instead, the biosphere serves as our starting point and our home. According to the Buddhist point of view supporting the re-ignition of this exchange through the ecocide crusade is urgent if the aggregate insight of humankind and its longing to live in harmony and security is to be understood. He is of the view that the law of ecocide will not only hold those who committed the crime of ecocide criminally accountable, but it will also provide a forum for discussion.


K. G. Hammar, a researcher at the University of Lund, believes in drawing guidance from theology in facing the ecological crisis. He stresses that nature and the living being around us are not our property; they are not meant to meet human greed. He advises us to follow Kenosis (Greek for "empty") that is to empty one's own will and instead submit to the divine will.

According to him all theology must be metamorphosis, kenosis, and eco-theology. He recommends complete transformation from lonely planet to living planet where gift of life can be shared, a new economic system that does not exploit or dominate but ensures the wellbeing of all. Along with human rights, property rights, and many other rights we should also have eco-justice, law on ecocide to address crimes against nature, ecosystem, and common good, he added.

The Pacific Christian faith believes in living ecological households consisting of ecology (Oikos-logos), economics (Oikos-nomos), and ecumenicity (Oikumene). Their concept of co-existence relies on common belonging and now owing or ownership. Compared to the western economics that spin around profit and economic growth, James Bhagwan says, the Pacific are more concerned with communities and quality of life.

He holds a lack of vision responsible for the ecological crisis. Citing New Zealand as an example, where both the local and the national government applied "tea o Maori" a Maori perspective to ESE (environmental, social, economic) and climate change for community wellbeing, Bhagwan says that the environment should take precedence over man for achieving a harmonious relationship with nature.

In the Pacific region, Reweaving the Ecological Mat (REM), an ecological framework for development, recommends change based on a mix of indigenous knowledge, biblical and theological wisdom, local knowledge, and Christian spirituality. This viewpoint is also reflected in Laudato Si, in which His Holiness Pope Francis calls for ecological transformation to foster human and nonhuman solidarity. Bhagwan firmly believes that ecocide as an international law will play a critical role in ecological conversion.


Drawing attention to unsustainable materialism, Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad, Lecturer at the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University, says that a joint effort to heal the world is essential to deal with climate crisis. According to him, classical Islamic ethics and law recognise animal ethics and rights. Murad points out that the ethical code that Muslims inherited from the prophet Muhammad has firm rules of conduct towards trees, water, and animals and he compares mistreatment of them with blasphemy.

Connecting ecocide with Islamic law he said violation of the orders of the creator and disturbing the balance of the world is a crime. Comparing ecocide with epistemicide, he added ecocide should be included in the international statues. He stresses that the natural world should not be seen as "resources to be conserved" rather should be left with its own rights and integrity, "independent of human needs".


In his book Eco Bible: Commentaries on the Torah, Rabbi Yonatan Neril elaborates upon the spiritual vision of the Torah regarding long-term sustainability and environmental consciousness. He asserts that spiritual awareness, foresight, and hope have the power to ignite spirituality and affect transformational change. Our actions ought to demonstrate our dedication to our objective of halting climate change.

He points out that according to the Jewish oral tradition, "God gave humans 120 years before unleashing the flood."[5] As a warning to the people that the flood was coming unless they changed their ways, God chose Noah to build the ark. "Return from the evil ways and deeds," Noah told the people. Their failure to do so brought about God's wrath in the form of the greatest environmental catastrophe in human history�the flood, which perhaps wiped out virtually all living creatures.

Discussing chamas (bad behavior) Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch shows it is a frivolous wrong however its continuation can destroy our individual being. He drew analogies between small wrongs culminating in big sin and raindrops that result in a flood. Rabbi drew comparisons to the Titanic and stated, "Our current reality bears striking resemblance to the Titanic, whose captain chose to ignore numerous warnings of icebergs from other ships.

He is of the opinion that the largest ship ever built was more powerful than nature � unsinkable!"[6] When the team recognized the lethal chunk of ice, it was past the point where it is possible to dismiss the boat from its disastrous crash course. However, he added that we still have some time and can prevent similar events by living in harmony with nature and working together to prevent any further environmental damages.

Pre-colonial African religious and cultural practices are referred to as "endogenous," or Vodun. They are inextricably linked to the natural world as well as sacred sites that are not adequately protected and are currently in danger. Connecting with nature through culture, philosophy, language, art, dance, music, and medicine is an integral part of their way of life. They believe that being near to nature indicates being near to God. It is based on three fundamental principles: divine principles, community philosophy, and love. The indigenous communities give high priority to safeguarding these sacred sites.

As said by Appolinaire Oussou Lio, President of GRABE-BENIN, entire earth is a sacred place. It teaches us to respect and revere the living world and live in harmony and peace. A long-term solution might be to pass a law to protect sacred and fragile ecosystems. However, he added, we also require the law to reflect this ancient wisdom and support community in its broadest sense�the community of life.

The Sami people's traditional healers and protectors, the Noaidi, believe that when their lands are exploited, they become ill. Helene Lindmark, a Swedish wisdom keeper, claims that the destruction and exploitation of their forest caused her to develop heart and lung issues. She went on to say that working with the wisdom tradition in Europe is important for protecting the environment.

According to her, declaring ecocide a wrongdoing would be a welcome step. People are destroyed when nature is destroyed. There is no insurance by any means today. She adds that the companies exploiting the natural resources argue up north, there are so many resources; we are only taking a small portion, Mother Earth can continue.

The fact that the same businesses are responsible for the exploitation in Brazil, in the Amazon, is extremely alarming. What factors are driving this? According to her, control, money, and power. However, at what cost? Both disease and pollution are on the rise.

A little bug bite in any part of our body causes the entire body to suffer; correspondingly, on the off chance that one region of the planet earth is harmed the world as a whole has to endure its impact. As science has progressed, man has begun to recognize a variety of means by which he can profit from nature without considering the potential repercussions. Science is once again attempting to address the problem of climate change, which is in fact the result of the exploitation that have been carried out with its assistance.

According to Dr. Gus Speth, "I used to think that biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change were the top global environmental problems. We couldn't solve these issues with 30 years of good science, but I was wrong. Selfishness, greed, and apathy are the environmental issues that need to be addressed, and a spiritual and cultural shift is required to address these issues. And scientists are unable to accomplish that."[7]

Greed, a lack of ethical principles, and culture are the underlying causes of all of our issues. Our thoughts and ideas mould during our formative years when we are still young. We often turn into exhibitionists. Festivals are celebrated by extravagantly.

Food waste comes to seen as a sign of affluence. There is irresponsible consumption of water and electricity and unnecessary use of electronic appliances. We continue to consume because it simplifies our lives without realizing its adverse effects on the natural world. We also fail to realize that by being voracious consumers, we simplify our lives while simultaneously increasing the complexity of lives for our future generations.

The majority of the issues can be resolved through the cultivation of ethical values, responsible consumption, by prevention of food loss and waste, and by application of conventional wisdom and knowledge. We should learn to live with nature and limit our needs rather than exploit it for our survival. We can achieve a balance with nature only by following the philosophy of "simple living." A minimalistic way of life with only need based possessions, is the way ahead. Astuteness and basic living will bring about existence liberated from dread vulnerability, abrupt calamity, and misfortune. Austere laws at the highest level, along with all of the behavioural changes, can bring massive changes and, ultimately, climate justice.

The global religious community demands a global response to stop ecocide, which is currently legal, citing their religious beliefs and their close connection to nature, the environment, and ecology. They approve the ideal of making it a crime against peace at the International Criminal Court. The most heinous crimes of international concern are handled by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

As destruction of environment, causing climate change are of concern for international community, making ecocide an international crime alongside Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, and Crimes of Aggression is of utmost necessity not only for current existence but also for the existence of our future generations.

  1. Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 4:6
  2. Article 8 ter Ecocide, Legal Definition of Ecocide, Stop Ecocide International
  3. Loy, D. 2018. Ecodharma, Wisdom Publications, p 114
  4. Loy, D, 2010. Healing Ecology, Journal of Buddhist Ethics. Vol. 17
  5. Eitz Yosef commentary to Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat Noach, sec.5.
  6. Rabbi Yonatan Neril, "Caring for Creation is Key to Receiving the Blessing of the Creator", Faith Voice for Ecocide Law, p 74.
  7. Speth, G. Shared Planet: Religion and Nature program, BBC Radio 4, London: BBC, 1 October 2013 as cited in Rod Oram. 2017. Reviewing the Global Economy: the UN and Bretton Woods Systems. Policy Quarterly 13, no. 1: 20-25

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