The US Alien Tort Statute (ATS) was considered one of the foremost judicial avenues for vindicating human rights violations until two Supreme Court cases limited its scope, leading practitioners and scholars to pronounce its death as a tool for human rights litigation. Although it no longer allows for cases against foreign companies for harms occurring on foreign soil, this blog argues that it is not dead.

Ahmad Al Zien started last month as a researcher with his individual project 'Secondary Liability for International Crimes – Case Study of Syria'. His 18-month appointment is being funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Through this programme, project leaders of NWO-funded research projects can request additional funding to hire a refugee to work on their project. The Amsterdam Law School published a news article about Ahmad's project.

 

On 16 and 17 January the Expert Group of the Rethinking SLIC project gathered for the first time in Amsterdam. On the first day, all the participants came to the faculty room of the Amsterdam Law School for a plenary session. The principal investigator of the project, Göran Sluiter, first briefly introduced the project, after which he and Sergey Vasiliev elaborated on some practical aspects of the project as well as lessons learned from their previous project ‘International Criminal Procedure: Principles and Rules’ which used a similar structure to that of the current one.

This week Marc Tiernan and Nicky Touw joined the team as PhD candidates. A warm welcome to both!

Dutch development bank FMO was involved in financing the Agua Zarca project on the Gualcarque river in Honduras. The river and the surrounding land are sacred to the indigenous Lenca people, and the project has been met by continued protests. The situation gained increased international attention after local activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home on the night of 2-3 March 2016. In May 2018, members of her family and NGO announced they would pursue a case against FMO for its role in the human rights violations against the community.

Göran Sluiter and Kate Mackintosh have submitted their amicus curiae observations to the ICC concerning the Afghanistan situation. They argue that the pre-trial chamber's decision is not consistent with internationally recognized human rights and violates art. 21(3) of the statute.

The observations can be accessed on https://www.icc-cpi.int/CourtRecords/CR2019_07006.PDF

 

In cross-border tort cases for human rights violations, there is the strict rule that the law of the State where the harm occurred applies to the determination of civil (tort) liability. The nature and scope of foreign tort law generally develops into a battle of so-called experts. There is a significant risk that courts will commit errors in the interpretation and application of foreign law and that the fundamental principle of iura novit curia (‘the court knows the law’) can hardly be observed if foreign law needs to be applied. The question arises whether the rule of lex loci damni is in need of modernization.

On Friday 13 December, the Rethinking SLIC Project is organising a feedback and information seminar. With this seminar, we hope to facilitate an open exchange between the research group and NGOs who are working on issues related to secondary liability. The seminar will thus provide for a fruitful cross-fertilisation between, one the one hand, the academic quality of the project and on the other hand the needs and interests of those who will have to work with the results of the project in the practical application of the law on secondary liability.

The day will start with a lunch. Subsequently, the research team will present their work, after which we will have a discussion. The program starts at 13:00 and lasts until 16:00. 

If you are interested in attending, please contact Sjors Polm (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

 
 
 

Since holding robots liable for their unconscious yet wrongful behavior is not an option under existing law, accountability must devolve on to another legal entity or persons in order to avoid a situation of impunity. As the prior post highlighted, the lack of intentional or willful behavior by the primary wrongdoer—a robot—means that criminal liability is difficult if not impossible to establish. However, other areas of law, namely tort law, strict liability mechanisms, or the law of State responsibility, do not require the same standard of mens rea and thus might open up avenues for assigning accountability. 

On 20 June 2019, the London Court of Appeal delivered its judgment in the appeal of the Campaign Against Arms Trade against the Divisional Court’s judgment of July 2017 on the continued export of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Unlike the Divisional Court, the Court of Appeal found it was irrational and therefore unlawful for the Secretary of State for International Trade to proceed as he did, namely to not take Saudi Arabia’s past and present record of respect for international humanitarian law into consideration.

The development of weapons and warfare technology inevitably raises new moral and legal questions, and the advent of the use of autonomous weapon systems is no exception. Salient concerns arise when weapons are designed to be increasingly autonomous, especially with regard to liability in the event of international humanitarian law violations. 

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has dealt with the operation of CIA ‘black sites’ in certain European countries and the subsequent renditions of terrorist suspects from these countries to other places controlled by the CIA in a series of lengthy judgments.

It exceeds the scope of this blog to deal with all aspects of this interesting ECtHR case law. Instead, we will focus on three aspects which are of interest when analysing these cases from a secondary liability perspective.

This week, the UK Supreme Court is set to issue its highly anticipated judgement in Vedanta and another v. Lungowe and others, and the business and human rights community is paying close attention. The case is expected to define the scope of parent company liability for harms caused by acts of their subsidiaries abroad, and will have wide-ranging consequences on human rights litigation in the UK, including whether victims of human rights violations and grave environmental harms caused by subsidiaries of UK-based companies can avail themselves to UK courts.

Two cases related to war crimes have received quite some attention in the Netherlands over the past few years. These are the cases of Mr. Kouwenhoven and Mr. Poch. They provide an excellent opportunity to offer some thoughts on the fine line between guilt and innocence in the determination of criminal liability for those who have not committed the crimes themselves, but have in some way assisted in their commission.

According to a confidential EU report, three of Damen’s Stan Patrol 1605s, including the Talil 267, are used by the Libyan coastguard. Footage and photos show that machine guns are attached to the vessels’ mountings. The Dutch government permitted these vessels to be transported without a licence, classifying them as non-strategic and not subject to authorisation. Remarkably, Damen was eager to arm the vessels in 2014. In accordance with the arms embargos of the UN and the EU, the government denied permission. Now it appears the Dutch vessels are indeed armed and have been used in violent, high-risk operations against vulnerable people at sea.