Swiss Criminal Investigation Targets War Crime of Pillage
NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative and TRIAL International welcome the opening of a formal criminal investigation by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland into Chris Huber, a Swiss national active in the mining sector.
Huber is suspected of having committed pillage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a war crime under Swiss law. Both organizations had been investigating the case since 2013, and had filed a criminal complaint (dénonciation pénale), backed by numerous pieces of first-hand evidence, in November 2016.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has now confirmed having opened criminal proceedings against Huber. The OAG is investigating the alleged illegal trade of minerals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during the armed conflicts of the Second Congo War (1998-2003), following the TRIAL International/Justice Initiative dénonciation.
“Our investigations unveiled corporate documents, as well as internal paperwork belonging to the RCD Goma, which demonstrate Chris Huber’s business dealings with this violent armed group,” said Bénédict De Moerloose, head of TRIAL’s International Investigation and Litigation program. “At a time when the public increasingly demands of corporate actors that they respect and protect human rights, the opening of an investigation into a Western businessman conducting illegal trade in a conflict zone sends a strong signal to the whole mining sector”.
According to Ken Hurwitz, head of the Open Society Justice Initiative’s anticorruption program, “Too many conflicts around the world are fueled by the illegal sale of pillaged resources into global markets. Yet the international businesses and business people involved are rarely, if ever, prosecuted. The Swiss are to be applauded for pursuing this complex and important case.”
Among other material, the organizations uncovered evidence indicating that the 52-year old Huber was in a direct business relationship with the RCD Goma, a violent armed group controlling a large portion of Eastern Congo during the Second Congo War. If Huber is found to have illegally exploited and appropriated natural resources from a conflict zone, he could be held accountable for the war crime of pillage, a crime that is prohibited by international humanitarian law, and punishable under Swiss law by a prison sentence of not less than three years.
In 2001, Huber was granted a mining concession by RCD Goma, which included guarantees of protection by soldiers of the armed group, although the RCD Goma was not the owner of the mines. Although the concessions did not last long, he was still able to acquire tons of cassiterite and wolframite during the time when he held concessions. Huber had already been involved in the trade of minerals from the region at least since 1997, including with Swiss companies.
Both organizations are urging the Swiss attorney general to complete its investigation promptly.
No corporate actor has been found guilty of pillage since the Nürnberg war crimes trials at the end of the Second World War, although several military and political figures have been found guilty of the crime in recent years, including Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor, and most recently the former Congolese general and rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda. In 2015, a Belgian-American, Michel Desaedeleer, was arrested and charged with war crimes for pillage and enslavement in connection with trafficking in “blood diamonds,” during the Sierra Leone civil war, but he died in custody in Belgium while awaiting trial.
TRIAL v. Argor-Heraeus S.A.
This complaint sought to initiate an official investigation by Swiss federal prosecutors into allegations that a Swiss gold refinery processed several tons of goal pillaged from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Corporate War Crimes: Prosecuting the Pillage of Natural Resources
Reviving corporate liability for pillaging natural resources is not simply about protecting property rights during conflict—it can also play a significant role in preventing atrocity.
Legal Remedies for Grand Corruption
This collection of essays explores how civil society groups have been taking innovative legal approaches to hold to account those responsible for high-level corruption, and looks at possible new strategies for the future.
Justice Initiative Joins Calls to Defend Legacy of Guatemala's CICIG
The Justice Initiative joined over 200 organizations in a public statement, calling on Guatemala's new government to safeguard the advances of CICIG, the U.N.-backed anti-corruption commission.