On September 7, 2021, the French Supreme Court (Court of Cassation) overturned the decision of the Paris Court of Appeal, dismissing a charge of complicity in crimes against humanity against Lafarge, now part of Switzerland-listed Holcim. After an internal investigation, Lafarge admitted that its Syrian subsidiary paid armed groups to protect its workers at its Syrian plant.
In 2019, a French appellate court dismissed the crimes against humanity charge. It reasoned that Lafarge did not deliberately associate itself with those crimes.
The French Supreme Court remanded the case so that magistrates can re-examine Lafarge’s request to dismiss the case. Until now, French courts have not tried any French entity for crimes against humanity even though French courts have jurisdiction over such offenses. The French Criminal Code of Procedure (CCP) establishes universal jurisdiction over specified offenses emanating from international conventions ratified by France.
Under French law, crimes against humanity are generally defined according to the Rome Statute, with some difference. For instance, the CCP requires that a crime against humanity be part of a concerted plan.
The French prosecution accuses Lafarge of paying close to $15.3 million to jihadist groups, including the Islamic State (IS).
In October 2016, the prosecution started after the French Ministry of Economy and Finance brought a complaint against Lafarge.
Thereafter, Lafarge started an internal investigation. It learned that the Syrian subsidiary gave funds to third parties to arrange deals with various armed groups.
In 2019, the Court of Appeal dismissed the crimes against humanity charge. It reasoned that it accepted that the payments were not to help IS’s agenda of executions and torture. Nevertheless, it ruled that the prosecutor could proceed on three other charges: financing terrorism, violating an EU embargo, and endangering the lives of others.
In its decision the French Supreme Court explained “one can be complicit in crimes against humanity even if one doesn’t have the intention of being associated with the crimes committed.”
The Court reasoned that “Knowingly paying several million dollars to an organization whose sole purpose was exclusively criminal suffices to constitute complicity, regardless of whether the party concerned was acting to pursue a commercial activity.” 
The significance of the Lafarge prosecution concerns two important issues: accountability of multinational enterprises operating in conflict zones for contributing financially to the perpetration of atrocities by terrorist groups or other entities; and the responsibility of parent companies for the illegal activities of their subsidiaries abroad.
In this regard, in 2017, France enacted the first “duty of vigilance” law in Europe. It requires companies to prevent human rights abuses in their supply chains worldwide. It obligates them to pay damages if they fail to do so.
The case is also important for its illustration of how universal jurisdiction applies with respect to crimes against humanity.
Additional issues facing Lafarge are investigations in the United States. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Syria during the last ten years. They include the regime of Syrian President Bashar a-Assad and terrorist groups, such as IS. The internal investigation suggests the risks for U.S. sanctions are limited, partly since the improper payments were in cash and did not, to the company’s knowledge, enter the U.S. banking system. Normally, multinational enterprises violating U.S. sanctions send U.S. dollars that are cleared in the U.S.
The current issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of the Lafarge case.
 Sarah White, Court blocks Lafarge bid to scrap Syria crime against humanity charge, Reuters, Sept. 7, 2021.
 Open Society Justice Initiative, Universal Jurisdiction Law and Practice in France 4 (February, 2019), citing French Criminal Code, Article 689.
 Open Society Justice Initiative, supra, at 5.
 AFP, French firm Lafarge loses bid to dismiss ‘crimes against humanity’ case in Syria, Sept. 7, 2021. www.france24.com.
 AP, Lafarge charges of crime against humanity dropped on appeal but others remain, July 11, 2019, https://www.france24.om.
 AFP, supra.
 Madeline Young, Lafarge’s Case Cemented: Holding Corporations Liable for Crimes against Humanity, Emory Int’l L. Review: Recent Developments, 1 (2021), citing Claire Tixeire et al, Holding Transnational Corporations Accountable for International Crimes in Syria: Update on the developments in the Lafarge Case (Part II), Opinio Juris (July 27, 2020).
 Young, supra.
 Id., citing Tixeire et al, supra.
 David Keohane and Ralph Atkins, Syrian operation: Lafarge faces probe over Isis payments, Financial Times, Mar. 7, 2018.
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