Keynote address on ‘Business and atrocity crimes – between soft and hard law’

On 27 April 2022, Emeritus Professor David Scheffer, Pritzker School of Law, Northwestern University, Chicago, delivered a keynote address on ‘Business and atrocity crimes – between soft and hard law’ at a Class of Excellence hosted for this International Francqui Professor by the Law and Development Research Group. Responses were given by professors Steven Dewulf, Gamze Erdem Türkelli and Tomaso Ferrando, all three based at the University of Antwerp.

The vast field of business and human rights has a narrow channel of operational analysis occupied by business and atrocity crimes, where corporations become actors—complicit or directly—in committing atrocity crimes in the pursuit of profits. It has been a long journey to bring corporations into the net of accountability and steer their operations towards lawful terrain. This has required a mixture of soft law—U.N. guidelines, media exposure, public pressure, shareholder action—and hard law—civil or criminal exposure before national courts and the prospect of corporate officers standing trial before international and hybrid criminal tribunals. Enforcement of the Alien Tort Statute in U.S. courts has been rich terrain on which to litigate civil liability for atrocity crimes violations by business entities. Amending the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to include corporate criminal liability remains a possibility. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has ruled on corporate criminal liability, and corporate officers have been prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and charged by the International Criminal Court.