On 20 July 2023, the bill to include the crime of ecocide in the penal code was approved by the Council of Ministers.
This bill will still have to take its parliamentary route. Amendments may still be made to this bill during the parliamentary procedure.
The text approved by the Council of Ministers proposes to insert an article 141quater in the Belgian Criminal Code.
According to the proposal this provision would provide that ecocide, committed in time of peace or in time of war, intentionally or through serious lack of precaution or foresight, is a crime.
The crime of ecocide means unlawful or arbitrary acts committed in the knowledge that there is a real possibility of serious, major or permanent damage to the environment.
For the purposes of this definition:
1° arbitrary" means recklessly and without regard to harm that would be clearly be excessive in relation to the expected social and economic benefits;
2° "serious" means that the damage results in highly detrimental changes, disturbances or degradation of any part of the environment, including serious effects on human life or on natural, cultural or economic resources;
3° "major" means that the damage extends beyond a limited geographical area, crosses national borders or affects an entire ecosystem or an entire species or a significant number of people
4° "long-lasting" means that the damage is irreversible or cannot be restored by natural regeneration within a reasonable time;
5° "environment" means the Earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, as well as outer space.
The the text proposal foresees that offences shall be punishable by imprisonment for 20 to 30 years.
They shall be punishable by life imprisonment if they cause the death of one or more persons.
The court, if the offences referred to in § 1 are committed by legal persons, may also pronounce special forfeiture, dissolution, except for legal persons governed by public law, prohibition to carry out an activity that is part of the social purpose, except for activities belonging to a public service mission;, closure of one or more establishments, except for those where activities belonging to a public service mission are carried out, and publication or dissemination of the decision. In all cases, the court may impose a sanction of reinstatement.
Importantly, the draft law also grants important powers to both the judge on the merits and the investigating judge.
Thus, when a criminal offence within the meaning of Article 141quater of the Criminal Code has been established, the investigating judge or the criminal court may, without prejudice to the actions referred to in that provision:
1° order the total or partial cessation of a business or activity;
2° seal the equipment and, if necessary, proceed to the immediate temporary closure of the installation;
3° impose on the person responsible for the aforementioned installation, operation or activity an intervention plan or the introduction of a recovery or rehabilitation plan within a specified period of time;
4° take any other appropriate measure to put an end to a crime of ecocide;
In addition, ecocide will also be given extraterritorial effect, as it has been before for violations of international humanitarian law and crimes or malpractices against the security of the State. Any Belgian or foreigner will be able to be prosecuted in Belgium for committing Ecocide abroad under the draft law.
You can find the link to the bill here.
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