Belgium and the recognition of ecocide as a crime

News Excerpt:

The Belgian Federal Parliament has voted in favour of a revised penal code that makes ecocide punishable at both national and international levels.


  • Ecocide” means 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.
    • Ecocide’ was defined by the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide.
    • The Definition was given in 2021 by the Panel, which itself was formed by the Stop Ecocide Foundation.
  • Ecocide is a massive damage and destruction of ecosystems, harm to nature which is widespread, severe or systematic.
  • Examples of Ecocide:
    • Industrial fishing
      • Practices such as deep-sea bottom-trawling, which destroys entire ecosystems by dredging the ocean floor; overfishing with associated multiple species loss.
    • Oil spills
      • Many examples, the worst being Deepwater Horizon 2010 which formed a slick extending over more than 149,000 square km,with an estimated 1,100 miles (1,770 km) of shoreline polluted.
      • The Niger Delta has suffered from continuous oil spills over many decades of extraction and is still one of the most polluted regions on Earth.
    • Textile chemicals
      • The textile industry has a huge polluting impact via wastewater from dyeing and tanning.

Stop Ecocide International (SEI) and Stop Ecocide Foundation:

  • Stop Ecocide International (SEI) was co-founded in 2017 by Polly Higgins and Jojo Mehta.
  • SEI is the driving force behind the growing global movement to make ecocide an international crime.
  • Stop Ecocide Foundation was created in 2019 to support the growing movement and is the main fundraising and commissioning vehicle for SEI.

What is new Belgian Law:

  • Nationally the new crime of ecocide is aimed at preventing and punishing the most severe cases of environmental degradation – such as extensive oil spills.
  • The law will apply to individuals in the highest positions of decision-making power and to corporations.
    • The punishment for individuals may include up to 20 years in prison, while corporations could face fines of up to 1.6 million euros.
  • The scope of this new law is limited to areas within the jurisdiction of the federal authority, including the North Sea and nuclear waste management.
  • Belgium has also become the first European country to recognise ecocide as an international crime.
    • In addition, Belgium now recognises ecocide as a fifth ‘international crime’ after war crimes, crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Ecocide and European Union:

  • During COP26 in Glasgow, the world’s first global citizen’s assembly put forth its view that international courts should recognise ecocide.
  • The European Union has encouraged its Member States to campaign for its recognition within international courts.


With the new law Belgium has displayed significant leadership not only on a national scale but also on behalf of those who become more vulnerable when powerful decisions lead to large-scale environmental harm and threaten our livelihoods. With countries like Belgium leading the charge, tangible progress is being achieved, particularly in Europe. This progress was evident following last November's agreement to include ecocide-level crimes in the EU's revised environmental crimes directive. 


Book A Free Counseling Session