A New Hope for the Environment

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Laila Afifa

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaSoon environmental destruction is on the same level as genocide and will come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. This is an opportunity to take action againts those in Indonesia who are damaging the enironment.

    The agreement by an international panel of legal experts at the end of June to define ecocide as a serious crime against the environment has the potential to isolate Indonesia from the international community. While other nations are preparing to put forward amendments to the Rome Statute to include ecocide as the fifth core international crime, Indonesia has not even ratified the international agreement used as the basis for the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

    Indonesia was one of 148 members of the United Nations that attended the conference in Rome, Italy, in July 1998 when the Rome Statute was supported by 120 nations. Seven countries opposed it. A total of 21 nations, including Indonesia, abstained. A few years ago, Indonesia's intention to adopt the Rome Statute once appeared in the 2004-2009 Human Rights National Action Plan. However, after almost two decades, the plan has not been realized.

    Even worse, recently a number of people in Indonesia have been pushing the country to no longer be bound by the Rome Statute. Their excuse is that Indonesia has a Human Rights Courts Law - which they claim covers the same legal subjects. The potential inclusion of the ecocide clause in the Rome Statue is bound to break that claim. Currently ecocide is clearly not included in Law No. 26/2000. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) for example failed in its attempt to use the ecocide principle when it was advocating for victims of the Lapindo mudflow in Sidoarjo, East Java.

    At that time, Walhi came up against a decision by the National Commission on Human Rights stating that the Lapindo case was not a serious huan rights violation. This is despite the extensive damage caused by the explosion at the gas well drilled by Lapindo Brantas. More than 25,000 people had to leave their homes, 10,000 houses were submereged under mud and almost 200 hectares of plantations and rice fields were inundated. A total of 30 factories were forced to close and almost 2,000 workers lost their jobs.

    Now international law experts have defined ecocide as "unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts." This understanding is based on the definition of genocide - one of the four serious crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC. Included in the terminology of ecocide are large-scale deforestation, oil spills at sea and deep sea mining. Under this definition, the Lapindo mudflow can be categorized as ecocide.

    There is still a long way to go before the Rome Statute is amended, although it only needs one nationa to prepare it. Vanuatu, a Pacific island nation threatened by rising sea levels caused by the climate crisis, will probably put forward a proposal to make ecocide a crime. However, after this, two thirds of 124 nationals must adopt it.

    The Indonesian government cannot afford to keep buying for time. Continuing to delay the adoption of the Rome Statute is like concealing a time bomb,especially since the list of development policies and projects that pay no attention to environmental impacts is getting longer. For example, in order to roll out the red carpet for investors, Indonesia passed the omnibus Job Creation Law, which ignores environmental conservation. There is also the development of motorbike racing circuit at Mandalika, of the Komodo Island premium tourist project, and the gold mine project at Sangihe, all of which have the potential to damage the environment.

    Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine