International Criminal Court to prosecute business and human rights
Herbert Smith Freehills LLP
Lexology | 2 November 2016
In what many NGOs are calling a warning shot to company executives and investors, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicated it will prioritise cases involving the destruction of the environment, illegal exploitation of resources and land-grabbing.
Following recent calls for international tribunals – including the ICC – to investigate corporate involvement in land-grabbing and environmental destruction committed during peacetime, the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor published a policy paper outlining its intention to prioritise these cases.
Currently the risk of a company or its executives being prosecuted at the ICC for these crimes seems remote; there are serious practical and jurisdictional hurdles to any prosecution actually taking place. Nonetheless, the reputational risks for a company of being associated with an investigation into any of the crimes that fall within the ICC's jurisdiction – genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – could be devastating.
While the ICC has no jurisdiction to prosecute companies, individual company executives can in principle be investigated in connection with corporate complicity in widespread environmental destruction or land-grabbing amounting to a crime against humanity. Such an investigation (and any resulting prosecution) would, however, face a number of considerable legal hurdles.
Hurdle 1 – individual criminal responsibility: Where corporate involvement in land-grabbing, widespread environmental destruction or illegal exploitation of natural resources amounting to an international crime is alleged, it must be established that the relevant executive at that company bears individual criminal responsibility for that crime. This poses considerable practical and evidential hurdles, particularly where the alleged corporate involvement is indirect.
Hurdle 2 – Jurisdiction: the ICC has a limited personal, geographical and temporal jurisdiction. It can only exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed after 1 July 2002 by an individual in the territory of a State Party to the Rome Statute or by nationals of a State Party. Presently, this excludes countries such as the USA, China, India and most of South East Asia, and a number of African states have recently signalled their intention to withdraw from the Court.
Hurdle 3 – Admissibility: The ICC is a court of last resort. Even if the relevant company executive is a national of a State Party, the Prosecutor will only declare a case admissible if the national courts of that State Party are unwilling or unable to prosecute the crime themselves.
Caution: the indirect risks for companies
Although the chances of direct investigation or prosecution seem remote at present, there remain a number of risks for companies in this area....MORE