'Organs of Society': A Plea for Human Rights Accountability for Transnational Enterprises and Other Business Entities

34 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2005

See all articles by Rebecca M. Bratspies

Rebecca M. Bratspies

City University of New York - School of Law


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights assigns individuals, states and "organs of society" the duty to promote and protect human rights. The Nuremberg Tribunals were the first significant international attempt to prosecute grave violations of humanitarian law and human rights - rights that we now presumptively believe will be vindicated and respected by international law. Along with recognizing individuals as holders of international rights, Nuremberg recognized individuals as actors in the international arena that were capable of upholding or violating international law. This recognition is embodied in the Rome statute creating the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Just as there are individual and state international crimes against humanity, so to there should international recognition of corporate crimes against humanity, as well as corporate culpability for participation in acts of genocide or war crimes. By exploring, inter alia, United States ATCA jurisprudence, the decisions of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, as well as existing multilateral treaties on a variety of subjects, this essay makes the case that the growing recognition of corporations as legal persons or juridical persons in domestic and international law supports their inclusion within international criminal law as well. In making this case, the essay traces the nascent seeds of corporate criminal liability for gross violations of human rights in existing international law.

Keywords: ATCA, international law, human rights, genocide, Nuremberg, crimes against humanity, war crimes, corporation, juridical person, legal person, Geneva Convention, International Criminal Court, ICC, ICTY, ICTR

JEL Classification: D7, F1, F23, K1, K33

Suggested Citation

Bratspies, Rebecca M., 'Organs of Society': A Plea for Human Rights Accountability for Transnational Enterprises and Other Business Entities. Michigan State University College of Law Journal of International Law, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=692202

Rebecca M. Bratspies (Contact Author)

City University of New York - School of Law ( email )

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Long Island City, NY 11101
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