Paris/Berlin, 7 September 2021 – Today, France’s highest court, the Cour de cassation, decided that Lafarge’s indictment for complicity in crimes against humanity was wrongly canceled by the Paris Appeals Court. This charge had been issued in connection to payments made by Lafarge to the Islamic State and other armed groups in Syria between 2012 and 2014. Today, the Supreme Court found that knowingly transferring millions of dollars to an organization whose sole purpose is criminal is enough to characterize complicity. The Supreme Court therefore ordered for the case to be sent back to the Appeals Court on this charge.
Today’s decision is deemed crucial for corporate accountability. It follows a criminal complaint filed in 2016 by eleven former employees of Lafarge together with NGOs Sherpa and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.
“Lafarge was not just doing business, but recklessly put the lives of me and my colleagues at risk – just for the sake of financial profits”, says Mohammad, a former employee of Lafarge in Syria and plaintiff in in the case.
The judicial inquiry revealed that between 2012 and 2014, the company, through its Syrian subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria, allegedly paid up to 13 million euro to various armed groups, including the Islamic State, in order to keep its cement factory in northeastern Syria running. This, in spite of the ongoing war raging at its doorstep and the kidnappings and security threats faced by its employees.
“Today’s decision sends an important message to all companies that profit from or fuel armed conflicts and claim that their business activities are neutral”, explains Cannelle Lavite, legal advisor at ECCHR. “By transferring hundreds of thousands of euros to the IS, a group that knowingly committed crimes against humanity, Lafarge was well aware that this money could be used towards criminal purposes of the worst nature – and thereby made itself possibly complicit.”
“With this historic decision, it becomes difficult for companies to escape accountability and shift the blame for their wrongdoings or decisions that cause human rights violations to their foreign subsidiaries”, says Franceline Lepany, President at Sherpa.
The court maintains the indictments against Lafarge group for financing of terrorism. The decision on endangering the lives of others has been ordered back to the Appeals Court for review. Eight former executives remain indicted under various charges in the on-going judicial inquiry.
Regrettably, although the Supreme Court maintained ECCHR’s admissibility in relation to crimes against humanity, it rejected Sherpa’s. It also confirmed the inadmissibility of Sherpa and ECCHR as civil parties for the offences of financing of terrorism and endangering the lives of others.
“Without Sherpa and the ECCHR, we would never have had access to justice. This aspect of the decision is shocking”, explains Mohammad, one of the plaintiffs in the case.
The decision to reject Sherpa’s admissibility in this case is part of an alarming practice to restrict civil action by associations. “The possibility to act before the criminal justice system is reduced for associations, while their role is essential in the fight against impunity of multinationals. Indeed, the victims and the authorities cannot always act before the courts for material or political reasons. It is therefore imperative to reverse this trend, if necessary through reform”, says Sandra Cossart, Executive Director of Sherpa. Over the last few years, Sherpa and ECCHR have accompanied, at their request, many former Syrian employees of Lafarge in the current criminal proceedings.
Background on the proceedings:
Since 2017, following ECCHR’s and Sherpa’s complaint, eight former managers of Lafarge, including former CEOs of the group, have been charged with financing of terrorism and endangering their employees’ lives.
In June 2018, the company was charged with complicity in crimes against humanity and ordered to pay a 30 million euro deposit ahead of a possible trial.
In November 2019, the Paris Court of Appeals confirmed the charges of financing of terrorism and endangering peoples’ lives but rejected the charge of complicity in crimes against humanity. It also revoked Sherpa’s and ECCHR’s admissibility as civil parties in the case. Both the NGOs as well as Lafarge appealed these decisions, leaving it to the French Supreme Court to decide on these matters.