Syria - Armed Conflict - Lafarge

Lafarge in Syria – Accusations of complicity in grave human rights violations

Syria - Armed Conflict - Lafarge

Lafarge in Syria – Accusations of complicity in grave human rights violations

In June 2017, France launched a judicial inquiry into the activities of cement and construction group LafargeHolcim and its subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria. The inquiry follows a complaint filed by former Syrian Lafarge employees together with French NGO Sherpa and ECCHR in November 2016, arguing notably Lafarge's complicity for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In December 2017, the former chief executive of Lafarge group and three former directors, as well as two former French directors of the subsidiary, were formally indicted for financing of terrorism and endangering people's lives. The complaint also had consequences within the company: in March 2017, after an internal company review, Lafarge indicated that its subsidiary LCS had paid money to armed groups in Syria. On 24 April 2017, the CEO announced he would resign due to the controversy.

Case

On 15 November 2016, eleven former Syrian employees of French company Lafarge submitted in Paris a criminal complaint against Lafarge together with ECCHR and the Paris-based Association Sherpa. Represented by maître Marie Dosé and maître Jean-Christophe Ménard, the suit was filed against cement-manufacturer Lafarge and its subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS) for its actions in Syria. By having business relations with the terrorist group ISIS in Syria, this company may have taken part in the financing of the group, being therefore complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Context

LCS owns a cement factory in the north of Syria, between Raqqa and Manbij. In 2012, when the conflict escalated in the north of the country around Raqqa and Aleppo, LCS repatriated its expatriate staff, while Syrian employees kept on working in the Jalabiya plant. During 2013, conflicts intensified and ISIS seized the north of Syria. Check points controlled by this organization multiplied on the roads surrounding the Lafarge plant. According to the information Sherpa and ECCHR collected, LCS would have entered into arrangements with ISIS in order to maintain production, by paying for passes issued by the jihadist organization and buying raw materials necessary for cement production such as oil and pozzolana in areas under ISIS's control. Sherpa and ECCHR are also filing suit against the cement-manufacturer and its subsidiary for reckless endangerment. According the gathered information, the French company did not set up safety measures suitable to the ongoing crisis in the area in which the plant was situated: employees kept on going to work in spite of the many dangerous checkpoints controlled by ISIS; they escaped on their own when the plant got attacked, etc.

glossary

War crimes are serious breaches of international humanitarian law committed in armed conflict.
Strategic litigation is legal action seeking to bring about social change with an impact beyond the individual case.
Crimes against humanity are grave violations of international law carried out against a civilian population in a systematic or widespread way.
International criminal law applies in cases of grave human rights violations (such as genocide and war crimes).

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