Paris/Berlin, 24 October 2019 – Today, the Investigation Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeals rejected the civil society organizations Sherpa and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights’ (ECCHR) admissibility as civil parties in the case against French multinational construction company Lafarge for its role in Syria. Sherpa and ECCHR filed the original lawsuit against Lafarge, together with 11 former employees. The court’s decision on the indictment of former Lafarge executives and Lafarge as a legal entity has been postponed to 7 November 2019.
The organizations will appeal today’s decision at the French Supreme Court. The court will have the opportunity to examine this case, which has crucial repercussions for the role of civil society organizations in the fight against multinationals’ impunity for human rights violations, as well as victims’ access to justice.
A former Syrian Lafarge employee and plaintiff in the case said, “Without Sherpa and ECCHR, I would not have had access to French justice. Lafarge chose to protect profit over its Syrian employees. This case shows the role business actors play in armed conflicts.”
This decision is part of a broader movement in France to shrink the standing of civil society organizations in such cases, ultimately limiting legal actions that are essential to fight impunity.
“Civil party participation is essential to protect the rule of law and consolidate our democracy at a time when financial lobbying and political considerations sometimes slow down public prosecutors. Without our complaint, our expert judicial work, and support for the victims, such an investigation would not have been possible,” said Sandra Cossart, Sherpa’s Executive Director.
“Today’s decision severely obstructs access to justice of those affected by crimes during armed conflicts that are fueled by transnational companies. We are very disappointed, as we will no longer be able to file submissions in the on-going judicial inquiry,” added Claire Tixeire, Senior Legal Advisor at ECCHR.
The Investigation Chamber’s 7 November decision regarding Lafarge’s indictment for complicity in crimes against humanity in Syria will be of utmost importance.
“We hope that the court will not miss a decisive step in the fight against multinationals’ impunity when operating in areas of armed conflict,” commented Marie-Laure Guislain, head of litigation at Sherpa.
“Parent companies that are involved in their subsidiaries’ illegal activities must be held to account, and if necessary, compensate those affected by these crimes,” explained Claire Tixeire.