Crimes against Future Generations

Actions which are so terrible that they put the very survival of life at risk or threaten the way of life of communities should be prohibited and prosecuted. When individuals act despite knowing the severe consequences of their acts or conduct on the long-term health, safety, or means of survival of human populations, they are committing what we call a crime against future generations.

We recognise crimes as:

Acts or threats of acts in the present that could cause serious widespread and long term harm to the health, safety or survival of future generations. These acts or threats may consist of individual, family, social, political, military, economic, cultural or scientific activities that:

• could cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural or human environment, including the conditions of survival of an entire species, sub-species or ecosystem; or

• could gravely or irreparably imperil the health, means of survival or safety of a given human population.

Crimes against future generations would not be future crimes, nor crimes committed in the future. Rather, they would apply to acts or conduct undertaken in the present which seriously harm the natural environment, human populations, species or ecosystems in the present and which have consequences for the long-term.

Just as crimes against humanity are not crimes which are directly committed against humanity, crimes against future generations would also not be directly committed against future generations. The term “humanity” in crimes against humanity indicates that this crime concerns offences which are of concern to all of humanity, and that the gravity is such that when they are committed, all of humanity is injured and aggrieved. Crimes against future generations are similar, and arise where there is a connection, in terms of knowledge and causation, between the underlying offence and damage in the long-term.

Some examples of the crimes:

•    Arctic Drilling
•    Bottom Trawling
•    Cultural Heritage Destruction
•    Denying Girls an Education
•    Nuclear Weapons
•    Casino Finance

    Razing the Rainforest

Click here to read our FAQ on crimes against future generations

The initiative of defining crimes against future generations grew from discussions held by the World Future Council Commission on Future Justice on the need to develop new laws and policies guaranteeing human security, ecological integrity, and social equity in the interest of future generations. The development of the concept and a definition of crimes against future generations for the International Criminal Court were commissioned to Sébastien Jodoin, Lead Counsel with the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law, CISDL. This process included expert workshops, consultations and meetings organised by the World Future Council and the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law with leading international judges and lawyers from 2007 to 2010. The resulting definition of crimes against future generations under international law builds upon a number of principles and developments in international law and policy on sustainable development, environment, human rights and international crime. The World Future Council also continues to work on the foundational level of the Future Justice agenda and seeks to influence the way we think and act by engaging with experts and advocates in international law and policy. A related academic book ‘Sustainable Development, International Criminal Justice, and Treaty Implementation’ on the links between sustainable development and international criminal law, with many contributors from all over the world, was published in August 2013.

Encouraging and inspirational initiatives related to the World Future Council's crimes against future generations work are gaining traction around the world:

The One Justice Project (1JP) is a collaborative legal research and advocacy project seeking recognition of the most serious violations of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights as crimes in global public opinion, international law, and domestic legal systems. It will campaign for changes in international and domestic law to provide individual criminal accountability for such violations as forced labour, corruption, discriminatory denials of access to basic levels of water, food, health, and education, and severe environmental harm and pollution.

Read here about the Ecocide campaign, an initiative working to introduce a proposed law against ecocide. Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.

"Yes moko, just like the sea which has to move its tides
so we can collect Kaimoana at certain times.
Rules give harmony to our lives
so we live with
minimum conflicts.
Working in harmony with others, ae moko, it’s nature’s
act of saying,
Let us make music all together
if not in reality — then make it your dream."

WFC Councillor Pauline Tangiora

Future Justice… about thinking and acting differently, based on respect, dignity and mutual trust

…considers not just what is happening now, but the effects of our actions in the years, decades and centuries to come

… is a means of creating new rules for how we live and work, pass laws and run countries

…is the giving of rights to the poorest, the weakest, the ignored, to the planet and to the other living creatures we share it with

…is a protection for all the people yet to be born,  whose lives we are blighting before they have even started

…is about what we do now.  Our actions today will determine the conditions of life for centuries to come