On June 6, Ukraine experienced an environmental disaster. The collapse of the Kakhovka dam in the south of the country sent water rushing downstream, beating more than 100 people according to Ukrainian officials. Water from the dam washes away villages, floods farmland and nature reserves, and washes away pollutants such as oil and agrochemicals as it makes its way to the Black Sea.
The cause of the collapse has yet to be determined – whether it was a result of Russia’s war on Ukraine or a structural failure – but it certainly was one of Europe’s worst ecological disasters in recent decades. Ukraine calls it “ecocide.”
Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky described the collapse as an “environmental bomb of mass destruction” and many international figures agreed. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, during a visit to Kyiv on Thursday 29 June 2023, told reporters that “ecocide and environmental destruction are forms of warfare as Ukraine knows all too well at this point, and so does Russia.”
A Turning Point to Shift ICC View on International Crime?
The word “ecocide” may be unfamiliar to many, but there has long been a fight to get large-scale environmental damage recognized as an international crime that may be tried in the International Criminal Court. Ecocide is defined by the Panel of International Lawyers as “unlawful or reckless acts committed with the knowledge that there is a high probability of severe and widespread or long-term environmental damage caused by such acts.”
Experts claim that as the globe continues to experience cross-national ecological disasters, criminal liability is rare, owing in part to a lack of effective legislation and investigation methods. It may take years to fully understand the damage caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, but some legal and environmental experts believe the ongoing ecological catastrophe will be a turning point for ecocide recognition.
Until recently, international criminal law was largely concerned with crimes done directly against individuals, but experts say there are gaps in legislation addressing the most serious environmental damage. Ecocides include the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, severe pollution in the Niger Delta, and Amazon deforestation. This kind of incident does not only harm the environment but the people who live nearby as well.
This is why in 2021, a panel of experts drafted a law that, if adopted, would add “ecocide” as a fifth crime that the ICC can prosecute, alongside genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. However, the term ecocide itself has been used since the 1970s, particularly about whether the US created ecocide in Vietnam during the war, and in 1985, the concept of ecocide resurfaced with an unsuccessful attempt to add it to the Genocide Convention.
Until recently, the ICC had limited authority over persons, therefore it could not investigate or prosecute businesses that were accused of conducting ecocide. As a result, if there is suspicion of corporate involvement in ecocides, the business cannot be convicted in court because it is not (legally) an individual. Making it harder for actors to protect the environment and ecological aspects that could be affected.
The development of international relations, especially related to international crimes continues to grow, including how ecocide can harm humans and currently where defense and security focuses on humans has made many countries support ecocide as a crime that can be tried. This is one of many arguments from a lot of people who concerned and support that ecocide is should be considered a crime that as harmful as genocide and other international crime.
Countries such as France, Belgium, and Canada have voiced their support for ecocide being recognized as a crime. However, the world’s main polluting countries, such as Russia, China, and India, are not members of the ICC, making it difficult to recognize ecocides. It can be said that so far environmental welfare has not become an important focus for international actors, especially when faced with open conflicts such as in Ukraine, even now we witness the real incident that can be categorized as an ecocide.
Even so, this incident in Ukraine could be a turning point for the recognition of ecocides with concrete evidence. “Right now, dam breaking, however visible this is, is probably one of those paradigm moments when we see change,” according to Doug Weir of the Conflict and Environment Observatory, a UK-based charity.
 Radina Gigova, “Greta Thunberg has accused Russia of ‘ecocide’ in Ukraine. But what does that mean?”, CNN, July 2nd, 2023, https://edition.cnn.com/2023/07/02/world/ukraine-ecocide-dam-collapse-crime-climate-intl-cmd/index.html
 “Zelenskiy says dam attack an ‘environmental bomb of mass destruction’ – as it happened
“, The Guardian, June 7th, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2023/jun/06/russia-ukraine-war-live-dam-near-kherson-blown-up-by-russian-forces-ukrainian-military-says
 Op. Cit., Gigova
 Mary Rizk, “Can the International Criminal Court Prosecute Ecocide?”, Earth Refuge, May 27th, 2022, https://earthrefuge.org/international-criminal-court-ecocide/
 Op. Cit., Gigova
 “What is Ecocide?”, Stop Ecocide, https://www.stopecocide.earth/what-is-ecocide
 “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”, International Criminal Court, https://www.icc-cpi.int/sites/default/files/RS-Eng.pdf
 Op. Cit., Gigova