Author: Bryan P. Galligan, S.J.
Bryan P. Galligan, “Ecological Genocide in the Amazon: Raphael Lemkin and the Destruction of Human Groups,” Ethics & International Affairs, November 2020, https://www.ethicsandinternationalaffairs.org/2020/ecological-genocide-in-the-amazon-raphael-lemkin-and-the-destruction-of-human-groups/.
For most people, the word “genocide” likely evokes mental images of concentration camps, killing fields, and mass graves. Deforestation, no matter how severe, would seem to be only tenuously related, if at all. And yet, as demonstrated by the prospect of reaching a deforestation tipping point in the Amazon, the destruction of natural ecosystems can in fact threaten the existence of entire human groups in much the same way as Hitler’s gas chambers or Stalin’s organized famines. These ecological genocides cannot be prosecuted under international law as it currently stands. But if we return to Raphael Lemkin’s original thinking on genocide, it may well give us a way to recognize them for what they are. Recognizing and naming the human cost of such destruction also requires that we prevent it.