human rights & business (and a few other things)

American Society of International Law Business and Human Rights Roundtable, Washington DC

Participants to the roundtableOn 29 March I had the pleasure to participate to a roundtable on business and human rights organized by the American Society of International Law Human Rights Interest Group at George Washington University School of Law. The roundtable focused on the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and on the controversial drafting of a treaty on business and human rights.

My presentation focused on the treaty. I have said before that I have strong reservations about it (see here), and I still do. However, the process has now started and I think it is important to engage with it and to consider options to move forward. To set the scene, I made the point that contrary to what we may hear here and there on this issue, there exist dozens of treaties pertaining to business and human rights. International Labour Organisation conventions touch upon issues that are frequently the object of so called “business and human rights” litigation. One can mention for example Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines, which includes an obligation for states not only to regulate the matter, but also to “take all necessary measures, including the provision of appropriate penalties and corrective measures, to ensure the effective enforcement of the provisions of the Convention.” (Article 16) Moreover, all nine UN human rights treaties, to name only the main conventions of international human rights law, cover rights that are susceptible to be violated by the business sector and that state parties ought to protect. It is therefore a crowded legal environment already.

In this context, I discussed how a business and human rights treaty could add value, not through the creation of direct obligations for corporations, which I think cannot work, but by focusing on state  obligations in more detail than the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights. To me, the added value here is that a treaty would force states to report on the matter to a dedicated treaty body, business and human rights issues would more naturally make their way into the Universal Periodic Review process, and it would lead to General Comments which could be of use from an advocacy point of view.





Lecture on Corporate Liability for International Crimes – International Criminal Court Summer School 2016

iccOn 29 June I will give a lecture on corporate liability for international crimes at the annual International Criminal Court Summer School at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway (Ireland). My lecture will be one of a series of intensive lectures over five days (27 June- 1 July). All lectures are given by leading academics on the subject as well as by legal professionals working at the International Criminal Court.

This will be my fifth participation to this event and I strongly recommend it. It attracts participants of high calibre and the discussions are always enjoyable for all involved. The course is open to postgraduate students, legal professionals, scholars, and NGO workers. Participants are provided with a detailed working knowledge of the establishment of the Court, its structures and operations, and the applicable law. Lectures also speak to related issues in international criminal law, including: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, the crime of aggression, jurisdiction, fair trial rights, and the rules of procedure and evidence.

This year’s ICC Summer School will include a special session on victims at the International Criminal Court.

The list of speakers at the 2016 ICC Summer School includes the following:

Professor William Schabas (Irish Centre for Human Rights/Middlesex University); Professor Anne-Marie de Brouwer (Tilburg University); Dr Fabricio Guariglia (Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court); Professor Megan A. Fairlie (Florida International University); Paolina Massida (Office of the Public Counsel for Victims, International Criminal Court); Professor Ray Murphy (Irish Centre for Human Rights); Dr Rod Rastan (Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court); Dr Mohamed M. El Zeidy (International Criminal Court); Professor Donald M. Ferencz (Middlesex University); Dr Nadia Bernaz (Middlesex University); Fiona McKay (former head of Victims Participation and Reparations Section of the International Criminal Court) Dr Kwadwo Appiagyei Atua (University of Ghana and University of Lincoln); Dr Noelle Higgins (Maynooth University);
 Dr Shane Darcy (Irish Centre for Human Rights).

An early bird registration fee of €400 is available for delegates who register before 15 April 2016, with the fee for registrations after that date being €450. The registration fee includes all course materials, all lunches and refreshments, a social activity and a closing dinner. A limited number of scholarships are also available.

To register and for more information regarding the 2016 ICC Summer School, you can visit their  website  and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have any queries you can email:

New Developments in Complicity of Torture Case against French IT Company

Flag_of_Libya.svgOn Tuesday 15 March, French newspaper Libération and radio station France Inter revealed the results of a large-scale inquiry they conducted on the activities of French IT company Amesys, a subsidiary of Bull. The company is being investigated for its activities in Libya, specifically for having sold a surveillance system called Système Eagle to the Libyan regime under Gaddafi. The surveillance equipment was used to track Libyan opponents who were subsequently arrested and tortured. It is allegedly still in use in Libya.

Journalists gained access to dozens of documents showing the scale of the operation, and these documents are now part of the investigative judges’ file against the company. The system worked by identifying key words in individuals’ emails. Words such as “corruption”, or anything vaguely critical of the regime written in an email could trigger a person’s increased surveillance and his or her arrest.

This is a significant development in an investigation which has been dragging on for years. To this day, the company is still not formally charged with anything and strongly denied the allegations in a press release published on its website.

Irrespective of the company’s guilt or innocence in this specific instance, this is an important case for the entire field of business and human rights. If only from an academic perspective it would be interesting to see a company prosecuted for complicity of torture, how causation aspects would be dealt with, and how potential defences would play out. As the fate of civil claims against companies under the US Alien Tort Statute remains uncertain post-Kiobel (see my blog post on this here), it would be nice to see some progress in other countries in the area of corporate liability.

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