Peter D'Sena

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Peter D'Sena
Position/Fellowship type:
Senior Research Fellow
Institute of Historical Research
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Jul-2012 Ecocide is the missing 5th Crime Against Peace


The term ecocide was used as early as 1970, when it was first recorded at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington, where Professor Arthur W. Galston “proposed a new international agreement to ban ‘ecocide’”2. Ecocide as a term had no strict definition at that time: “although not legally defined, its essential meaning is well-understood; it denotes various measures of devastation and destruction which have in common that they aim at damaging or destroying the ecology of geographic areas to the detriment of human life, animal life, and plant life”. What was recognised was that the element of intent did not always apply. “Intent may not only be impossible to establish without admission but, I believe, it is essentially irrelevant.” Richard A. Falk, in his draft (1973) Ecocide Convention, explicitly states at the outset to recognise “that man has consciously and unconsciously inflicted irreparable damage to the environment in times of war and peace”. By the end of the 1970s the term itself seems to have been well understood. So how was it that an international crime whose name was familiar to many who were involved in the drafting of the initial Crimes Against Peace was completely removed without determination? Documents that have only now been examined and pieced together shed a whole new light on a corner of history that would otherwise be buried forever. What is so remarkable is that the collective memory has erased this crime in just 15 years, and yet documents tell a story of engagement by many governments who supported the criminalisation of ecocide in peacetime as well as in wartime. Extensive debate over 40 years, with committees of experts specifically tasked to undertake examination of ecocide and environmental crimes, documented in the paper trail left behind tells us that this was well-considered law; early drafts, which have been referred to in some of the papers that have been uncovered, provide definitive reference to ecocide as a crime which was to stand alongside genocide as a Crimes Against Peace – both during peacetime as well as wartime.

Extreme Energy As Genocidal Method: Tar Sands and the Indigenous Peoples of Northern Alberta


In this paper we discuss the impact of the tar sands development in northern Alberta on the indigenous communities of the Treaty 8 region.[i] While the project has brought income to some, and wealth to the few, its impact on the environment and on the lives of many indigenous groups is profoundly concerning. Their ability to hunt, trap and fish has been severely curtailed and, where it is possible, people are often too fearful of toxins to drink water and eat fish from waterways polluted by the ‘externalities’ of tar sands production. The situation has led some indigenous spokespersons to talk in terms of a slow industrial genocide being perpetrated against them. We begin the paper with a discussion of the treaty negotiations which paved the way for tar sands development before moving on to discuss the impacts of modern day tar sands extraction and the applicability of the genocide concept.

Ecocide is the missing 5th crime against peace


The term ‘ecocide’, the extensive destruction of ecosystems, has been around since the 1970s when it was first recorded at the Conference on War and National Responsibility, Washington in February of that year. From the 1970s onwards many academics and legal scholars argued for the criminalisation of ecocide and debated the elements required for such an international crime. During the 1970s, 80s and 90s making ecocide an international crime was also considered by the United Nations International Law Commission (ILC) for inclusion in the Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind (‘the Code’), which later became the Rome Statute,1 and by the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities for inclusion in the extension of the Convention on Genocide.2 A number of questions kept arising: Should ecocide be a crime in peacetime and wartime? Does the offender’s intent to commit the crime matter or are the consequences of extensive destruction of ecosystems severe enough to warrant ecocide being a crime of strict liability regardless of the offender’s intent? This report pieces together and examines the history of the Law of Ecocide, shedding a whole new light on a corner of history that would otherwise have remained buried. Perhaps one of the most interesting issues highlighted by this report concerns the manner in which ecocide, a concept that was familiar and supported by many as one that should be enshrined in international law, was dropped by the ILC in 1996.

Throwing petrol on a fire: the human and environmental cost of tar sands production


In this opinion piece, independent researcher Jennifer Huseman and Senior Lecturer in Human Rights in the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Dr Damien Short, examine Canada’s tar sands oil industry and its effect on indigenous communities. They describe how the industry ‘externalities’ of environmental degradation and pollution are seriously affecting the health of indigenous communities and threatening their physical and cultural survival. Furthermore,due to the enormous carbon footprint associated with the exploitation of the tar sands, the authors argue that they are a danger to us all. They call for a halt to tar sands expansion, the instigation of effective environmental clean-up procedures and measures to address the health issues facing indigenous peoples as a result of tar sands operations. They also call on national and international financial institutions to immediately withdraw funding from the tar sands expansion and operations.

Nov-2015 Researching and studying human rights: interdisciplinary insight


Since 1948, the study of human rights has been dominated by legal scholarship that has sought to investigate the development of human rights law, emerging jurisprudence, regional systems, the decisions and recommendations of human rights mechanisms and institutions and to a lesser extent the ‘compliance gaps’ between state commitments and actions. Even so, in all of these spheres there are elements that cannot be fully understood through a purely legal lens, moreover, if we understand ‘human rights’ more broadly, and look into the practical world of human rights work and human rights discourse, advocacy and activism, then we need to go beyond legal analysis. Indeed, to understand the world of human rights in both theory and practice requires interdisciplinary insight, as it covers an enormous range of social, political, economic and environmental issues. In this chapter, I will outline the contributions of two disciplines that were slow to contribute to the field of human rights but which offer vitally important insights that can guide both academic research and human rights advocacy.

May-2015 Extreme energy, ‘fracking’ and human rights: a new field for human rights impact assessments?


This article explores the potential human rights impacts of the ‘extreme energy’ process, specifically focussing on the production of shale gas, coal-bed methane (CBM) and ‘tight oil’, known colloquially as ‘fracking’. The article locates the discussion within a broader context of resource depletion, the ‘limits to growth’ and the process of extreme energy itself. Utilising recent secondary data from the United States and Australia, combined with the preliminary findings of our ethnographic fieldwork in the United Kingdom, the article outlines a prima facie case for investigating ‘fracking’ development through a human rights lens. Indeed, based on considerable emerging evidence we argue that ‘fracking’ development poses a significant risk to a range of key human rights and should thus form the subject of a multitude of comprehensive, interdisciplinary human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) as a matter of urgency. Finally, given the close relationships between government and extractive industries, we argue that these impact assessments must do more than bolster corporate social responsibility (CSR) statements and should be truly independent of either government or industry influence.

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