Prosecuting pillage

02 November 2010 by Thijs Bouwknegt

Commercially motivated pillage has taken on increasing importance in recent years as the illegal exploitation of natural resources has emerged as a primary means of financing conflict. But efforts to hold disreputable commercial actors responsible for war crimes or other serious human rights violations have been frustrated, frequently because of difficulties in proving corporate complicity. Larissa van den Herik of Leiden University organised the conference ‘Corporate War Crimes: Prosecuting Pillage of Natural Resources’ in The Hague last week.

Why is it necessary to talk about the issue now?
Addressing theft during armed conflict is not something new. Already in the 1907 Hague treaties we see that pillage is prohibited. But what we see now is that the traditional prohibition of pillage is revived, and in a way applied to new and different crime scenes. Whereas traditional pillage concerned more looting of villages, we now deal with the relatively new phenomenon of illegal exploitation of natural resources.

What is a corporate war crime?
In the conference we focus on pillage, which is a war crime. That is also why we speak of corporate war crimes. However, this concept might be too restrictive if we apply it to different international crimes, because not all international crimes are war crimes. Genocide and crimes against humanity are also international crimes in which corporations can be involved. The term corporate war crime is appropriate for our conference, but is not a concept as such.

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