skip to content

GSSC Seminar Series May 31, 2022


Ecocide, Reparations & The Colonial Corporation: India’s Environment & The East India Co.

Mrinalini Shinde (Faculty of Law, University of Cologne)



The Stop Ecocide Foundation recently commissioned the expert drafting panel on a proposed definition of ecocide, and the panel released their definition earlier this year as a proposed fifth crime of ecocide to be added to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The proposed definition is gaining some traction and support from Parties, and the next few years could witness a the possible criminalising of mass damage and destruction of ecosystems under international criminal law by. The Rome Statute hinges on individual criminal responsibility, and eliminates the possibility to prosecute any crimes where the cause of action arose before the amendment to the Rome Statute takes place. This opens up several challenges for the effective prosecution of corporations (both publicly and privately owned) for the proposed crime of ecocide.

This paper seeks to build a historical case for corporate ecocide by examining the actions of the East India Company particularly with respect to the Indian environment (within the boundaries of colonial India, including present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh). In a related question of international law, there has also been growing analysis of the demand for colonial reparations an an attempt to establish acceptable discourse on the issue, where remedies could take multiple forms, including acknowledgements, apologies and memorials, all with a focus on accountability of perpetrators.

The central question that the paper asks is, how can we examine the business activities and actions of the East India Company, and later the British monarchy in the territory of India, through the lens of the crime of ecocide as defined by the expert panel (recently commissioned by the Stop Ecocide Foundation) which covers “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.” Based on the examination of historical secondary sources and limited archival research, the paper seeks to expand imagination on how a scenario based on seeking reparations, and acknowledgement of environmental harms in India, by the now-defunct East India Company, and a surviving monarchy may be construed, despite the Rome Statute not having the jurisdiction for ex post facto application. The expansion of our imagination of colonial corporate crime may also then inform conceptualisation of corporate international crime in the future, particularly for a crime of ecocide.


Short Bio:

Mrinalini Shinde, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.), LL.M., M.Sc. is an environmental lawyer, and researcher based in Germany. She is currently the lecturer for International Environmental Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Cologne. She is the Academic Manager of the International Master of Environmental Sciences programme and is affiliated with the INGENIoS (Indo-German Network Interaction of Scientists) projects at the Environmental Law Center of the University of Cologne. Her previous role was as a Fellow at the Legal Affairs division of the UNFCCC secretariat in intergovernmental matters, treaty implementation and capacity-building. She is qualified to practice law in India, has previously litigated cases in environmental and criminal law, including appearing before the National Green Tribunal in India. She has also previously advised the climate media non-profit, ‘Climate Tracker Inc.’ as Policy Associate. She is an Associate Fellow of the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law and is Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the sustainable energy non-profit, ‘Student Energy.’ She is a candidate for the Doctor of Laws at the Faculty of Law, University of Cologne, & Doctor of Comparative Law at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her research focuses on international environmental law, environmental criminal law, climate change, carbon pricing & carbon taxes and corporate environmental crime.