Enforcing international humanitarian law: Catching the accomplices

30-06-2001 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 842, by William A. Schabas


William A. Schabas
is Professor of Human Rights Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights. — This article is adapted from a presentation to a meeting of the Working Group on International Humanitarian Law of the United States Institute of Peace, 25 September 2000. The author would like to thank Nicolaos Strapatsas for his research assistance in its preparation. 

Literally within days of the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the end of the Rome Conference in July 1998 the Financial Times, the prestigious British business daily, published an article warning “commercial lawyers” that the treaty’s accomplice liability provision “could create international criminal liability for employees, officers and directors of corporations”. Writer Maurice Nyberg referred to condemnation of violations of human rights involving multinational corporations by non-governmental organizations like Human Rights Watch, adding that “[i ] t takes little imagination to jump from complicity with human rights violations to complicity with crimes covered under the ICC Treaty”. Besides the more obvious offences relating to involvement in arms trading and financing of “security” for o verseas investments, the article warned that “mistreatment of preg-nant workers” and even “systematic pregnancy testing” by foreign subsidiaries might entail liability as a crime against humanity, namely that of persecution based upon gender. “As gender discrimination is wide-spread and systematic in much of the world, the ICC Treaty could require parent companies and financial institutions to police the global workplace under threat of criminal liability to their senior executives”, the Financial Times warned its well-heeled readership.  

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