Criminal liability for international crimes and gross human rights abuses, both in national, transnational (universal jurisdiction cases) and international fora, has been the subject of extensive research. By comparison, the possibility of civil liability for human rights violations remains underexplored. Yet, in many jurisdictions, under influence of human rights standards, law, particularly the law of tort (delict), is being developed in a manner that will foster accountability for human rights violations. A prime example of legislation permitting such litigation is the US Alien Tort Claims Act. In other jurisdictions, general tort norms, including the principles of vicarious liability, have been developed. In many jurisdictions these developments have been influenced by international human rights standards (such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) to establish a duty of care for the identification and prevention of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The most recent development with respect to corporate accountability is the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law, setting a firm standard of human rights due diligence for companies. At the same time, however, the possibility of civil liability for human rights abuses remains underexplored and scholarly investigation, particularly using the comparative method, has so far been limited.
This project funded by the Oak Foundation responds to the existing gap in literature by identifying when states, individuals and corporations can be held accountable for human rights violations using the civil claims. It involves a doctrinal comparative assessment of the selected legal systems. The legal questions include analysis of the principles of causation and vicarious liability, as well the concept of the duty of care. The study also examines the legal rules governing the liability of parent companies for human rights violations by their subsidiaries. One of the purposes of this project is to strengthen dialogue and mutual learning between human rights scholars and practitioners across a range of jurisdictions, with a special focus on the possibilities for successful human rights litigation in key jurisdictions in the Global South.