Nikola Hajdin is the Stockholm Oxford Fellow for the academic year 2022-23.
Across the globe, large multinational corporations regularly carry out commercial transactions with governments and non-state actors suspected of horrific human rights violations. As part of their ordinary business activities, they sell weapons, computers, civil and military vehicles, provide money, intelligence, training, air support, and so on, which are used in the commission of international crimes. These cases raise serious questions in international criminal law, in particular as to whether neutral business assistance may entail complicity. The concept of neutral assistance comes from German criminal law, and it is defined as a prima facie legitimate conduct that nonetheless contributes to the crime.
In this project, I will first make a conceptual clarification between different types of contributions relevant for complicity, such as neutral, ordinary, specifically directed, and dual-use assistance. I will then explore the meaning of contribution in the doctrine of complicity. In order to do so, I will take a theoretical detour and expound on the relevance of causation for aiding and abetting. In the last part, I will propose the minimum level of participation required for complicity in international criminal law and argue that any type of assistance is prohibited as long as it materially furthers the crime. Such an interpretation runs the risk of overcriminalization, especially if we accept the customary mens rea standard according to which knowing (as opposed to purposeful) assistance entails responsibility. To balance this, I will propose an argument of justification that exculpates assisters where the moral ground for the provision of means exceeds the significance of the caused harm.