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Will Lafarge be held accountable for alleged links to human rights abuses in Syria?

Autumn 2019 marked an important turn in the legal saga over whether French company Lafarge has been complicit in grave human rights violations in Syria.  The Paris Court of Appeal issued its much-awaited decision on whether to uphold or to revoke the several indictments issued so far against the multinational. The results are mixed.

While complicity for crimes against humanity was dropped, the three remaining criminal charges against the mother company for crimes committed in Syria were upheld – a first in terms of corporate accountability in France.

The French cement-manufacturing corporation was first at the heart of a scandal in 2016 when it was revealed that it may have financed the Islamic State (IS) and other armed groups in Syria in order to maintain its factory plant running...

After a lengthy legal inquiry, three investigative judges found there was serious and consistent evidence to formally charge the mother company for complicity in the crimes against humanity committed in Syria and Iraq by IS and other 'terrorist' groups in 2013-2014. 

As plaintiffs in this case, ECCHR and Sherpa had filed extensive briefs putting forward first the international consensus affirming that the atrocities perpetrated at the time by IS did amount to crimes against humanity, and second arguing that by financing the group, Lafarge may have become complicit in these crimes. 

However, the Investigation Chamber of the Court of Appeal decided to let go of this charge. Although rejecting most of the defense’s arguments, it based its decision on one ground: the mental element. It stated that complicity requires the willingness to be associated with or to take part in the perpetration of the main crime...

In the shadow of the decision to drop the most incriminating charge, however, remains an unprecedented move: The Court of Appeal maintains the indictments against the company for financing a terrorist enterprise, for deliberately endangering the lives of its Syrian workers, and for violating a trade embargo.