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Research

Rethinking Secondary Liability for International Crimes

Rethinking Secondary Liability for International Crimes (Rethinking SLIC*) is a research project that aims to develop a legal framework, based on theory and practice, for determining the outer limits of secondary liability for international crimes and serious human rights violations.

Questions of secondary liability arise when a person, company, or State is complicit in the commission of unlawful acts. The perpetration of international crimes and serious human rights violations often depends on a wide network of supporting actors, which may escape liability because of possible shortcomings in the law. As such, establishing an improved framework for secondary liability is a pressing issue, particularly in the current era of globalisation where assistance for such acts transcends national borders and when the ultimate harm is particularly grave, as is the case with mass atrocities.

Rethinking SLIC* focuses on secondary liability in three areas of law: tort law, criminal law, and State responsibility.

Why we rethink

The aim of Rethinking SLIC* is threefold: First, to identify the current state of the law on secondary liability for international crimes and serious human rights violations. Second, to assess its adequacy for establishing legal accountability. Third, to recalibrate the law of secondary liability in light of the need for legal certainty and for the protection of human rights.

Bearing in mind that serious human rights violations are usually committed with the assistance of an extended network of actors, traditional approaches towards secondary liability should be reconsidered. This serves the interests of both victims and perpetrators. A better understanding of the scope and content of secondary liability mechanism generates more effective protection mechanisms for victims. On the other hand, a clear set of rules with respect to secondary liability will allow powerful actors such as multinational corporations and States to adjust their conduct accordingly and act without undue restraint. Thus, clear outer limits of secondary liability should also be established in order to protect against a chilling effect on international transactions and cooperation.

What we rethink

The project focuses on secondary liability in the fields of civil law, criminal law and State responsibility under international law in relation to international crimes and widespread and systematic human rights violations. Within the project, the term secondary liability encompasses various types of assistance in the commission of international crimes and serious human rights violations. The scope and content of liability for assistance may differ per legal field (civil law, criminal law or the law on State responsibility) and gives rise to different legal liability constructs, such as aiding and abetting or complicity. Without being restricted by existing limitations of legal liability, the project will rethink secondary liability in light of today’s interdependent and cross-border commission of wrongdoing, as well as the enormous harm that is occasioned by international crimes and serious human rights violations.

While the research may also be relevant for secondary liability in other situations, Rethinking SLIC focuses on assistance –secondary liability– in the commission of atrocities, particularly because of the extreme gravity of the harm and the complexity of multiple actors generally involved in their commission.

Who is rethinking

The project Rethinking SLIC* will be executed by an international team of researchers, working at the University of Amsterdam.

The Expert Group on Secondary Liability, as part of the project Rethinking SLIC*, is composed of around thirty experts on various issues of secondary liability.

There is the possibility for external researchers to be involved in the project, for example as external PhD candidates or as visiting scholars.

 

To find out more about Rethinking SLIC* visit the dedicated project website and follow the research team on twitter.