A Brazilian Senator’s Proposal: A World Tribunal to Judge Environmental Crimes

Senator Cristovam Buarque In July 1981, during the 33rd Meeting of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) in Salvador da Bahia, I presented a proposal to create a Forum to Judge Development Crimes in Brazil. At that time five possible crimes existed:

Projects that destroy or, when carried out, threaten to destroy the environment and the natural resources;

Policies that concentrate income;

Transnationalized projects and measures that transfer natural resources to foreign group or nations without dignified remuneration to the country as a whole;

Projects and decisions that endanger the life and well-being of part of the population or that, in the name of development, compromise the survival of the indigenous population;

Public- and private-sector measures that benefit merely a small parcel of the national population at the cost of collective resources.

Far from obsolete after three decades, that forum idea is even more urgent and necessary today and would now have to be called a tribunal and not merely a forum. This would not be a formal tribunal with judicial legality since the governments of each country have no interest in this type of institution.

From June 4-6, 2012, these world leaders will gather in the city of Rio de Janeiro at the Rio+20 Summit. Only one, however, will have political reasons to truly think about the planet and humanity: the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed.

That country is the first that may disappear due to the rising sea level caused by the environmental crisis. Maldives is the exception. In the rest of the countries, each head of state will have to think about today and the voters’ interests, and not about the tomorrow of all of humanity. In each country decisions are made that could lead to judgment by this tribunal.

The governments have accepted the creation of a tribunal to judge crimes against humanity, but only for dictators’ political crimes against their opponents. They do not, however, want the same judgment for crimes committed against the ecological equilibrium or against society.

Hope lies in the moral force above the political one: the creation of an informal tribunal comprising great international personalities capable of inspiring the world with their spirit to condemn those responsible.

Although this appears to be an idealistic dream, decades ago, in the 1960s and 70s, a moral tribunal succeeded in mobilizing populations and put an end to the crimes that the USA was committing in Vietnam. This was the tribunal established by a 90-year-old philosopher named Bertrand Russell.

He assembled great international personalities who judged those guilty for the war crimes in Vietnam War. With no political but with much moral force, those elders succeeded in shaking up leaders worldwide, especially the U.S. presidents of that time.

The 21st century world can establish a new Russell Tribunal, this time to judge those responsible for conducting the affairs of today’s world and to issue punishment for crimes, such as petroleum exploration at the poles, measures increasing production without respect for the environment, destruction of ethnicities, nuclear energy without full control, financial actions unconnected to economies, measures that increase inequality and sacrifice education and healthcare, hydroelectric projects that destroy biodiversity.

At the University of Brasília last month – 30 years later – at the international seminar Preparing Rio+20: Proposing a Sustainable World, I presented the proposal once again. This new tribunal could have as a facilitator and organizer a retired person as old as Russell was at that time, such as, for example, Edgard Morin, who is in his 90s, or Stéphane Hessel, who is 94.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District.  You can visit his website at www.cristovam.org.br/portal2/, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SEN_CRISTOVAM in Portuguese and http://twitter.com/cbbrazilianview in English and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome (LinJerome@cs.com).

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