human rights & business (and a few other things)

New Developments in Complicity of Torture Case against French IT Company

Flag_of_Libya.svgOn Tuesday 15 March, French newspaper Libération and radio station France Inter revealed the results of a large-scale inquiry they conducted on the activities of French IT company Amesys, a subsidiary of Bull. The company is being investigated for its activities in Libya, specifically for having sold a surveillance system called Système Eagle to the Libyan regime under Gaddafi. The surveillance equipment was used to track Libyan opponents who were subsequently arrested and tortured. It is allegedly still in use in Libya.

Journalists gained access to dozens of documents showing the scale of the operation, and these documents are now part of the investigative judges’ file against the company. The system worked by identifying key words in individuals’ emails. Words such as “corruption”, or anything vaguely critical of the regime written in an email could trigger a person’s increased surveillance and his or her arrest.

This is a significant development in an investigation which has been dragging on for years. To this day, the company is still not formally charged with anything and strongly denied the allegations in a press release published on its website.

Irrespective of the company’s guilt or innocence in this specific instance, this is an important case for the entire field of business and human rights. If only from an academic perspective it would be interesting to see a company prosecuted for complicity of torture, how causation aspects would be dealt with, and how potential defences would play out. As the fate of civil claims against companies under the US Alien Tort Statute remains uncertain post-Kiobel (see my blog post on this here), it would be nice to see some progress in other countries in the area of corporate liability.

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