On May 18, on behalf of affected Colombian communities, a coalition of human rights groups including the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School called on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the complicity of executives at Chiquita Brands International in crimes against humanity. To date, no executive has been held to account despite the company’s admission that it funneled millions of dollars to Colombian paramilitaries that killed, raped, and disappeared civilians. If the ICC takes up the case, it would be the first time it moved against corporate executives for assisting such crimes.
In their submission to the court, the coalition of local and international human rights groups traces the executives’ involvement with payments made to the paramilitaries between 1997 and 2004. Even after outside counsel and the U.S. Department of Justice said such payments were illegal under U.S. law, the payments continued. The submission includes a confidential, sealed appendix that identifies by name fourteen senior executives, officers, and board members of Chiquita who the coalition argues should be the focus of the Prosecutor’s investigation.
The coalition, which consists of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR), relied on internal Chiquita documents and assistance from the National Security Archive at George Washington University to identify the Chiquita officials and show how they were involved with the crimes.
“The executives who oversaw the funding of paramilitaries should not be able to sit comfortably in their houses in the United States as if they did nothing wrong,” said a member of the Peace Community of San José de Apartado, which submitted a letter to the ICC about how the paramilitary violence personally affected them. “Families across Colombia have been waiting for accountability for too long.”
Chiquita could have acted differently, or could have left the country years before it did, but instead decided to continue its lucrative business while paying paramilitaries for so-called ‘security’ in the banana-growing regions. By 2003, Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia was its most profitable banana operation in the world.
“At the time, Colombian paramilitaries were notorious for targeting civilians, among them banana workers and community leaders,” said CAJAR, “but Chiquita’s executives decided to continue giving money to paramilitaries anyway.”
The Chiquita corporation already pled guilty in a U.S. federal court in 2007 to illegally funding Colombian paramilitaries. But accountability for the executives who oversaw and authorized the payment scheme has been elusive: While civil litigation is pending in U.S. courts against Chiquita executives, no criminal prosecution is on the horizon. Colombia has not been able to get jurisdiction over them, and there is no indication that the United States would extradite the executives.
“We request that the ICC expands its current inquiry in Colombia to specifically include Chiquita’s executives and officials,” said Dimitris Christopoulos, the President of FIDH. “The weight of the evidence should lead the Office of the Prosecutor to act if Colombian authorities are not able to.”
If Colombian authorities do not move ahead with this case, the submission asks the Prosecutor to request formal authorization from its Pre-Trial Chamber to open an investigation into Chiquita’s corporate executives.
The communication comes at a critical time in Colombia, as the country begins to implement an historic peace agreement after nearly half a century of conflict. The coalition’s submission urges the Office of the Prosecutor to monitor local Colombian proceedings to ensure its meets ICC standards, particularly with regards to the private sector support for the paramilitaries and business’ accountability.
“In times of transition to peace, corporate actors too often escape accountability for their egregious behavior in the past,” said Professor Tyler Giannini, a Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. “The prosecution of Chiquita officials for their payments to the paramilitaries would send a powerful message that impunity is no longer business as usual.”
“Human Rights Groups Call for ICC to Investigate Chiquita Executives for Death Squad Payments” (teleSUR, May 19, 2017)
“Small moments add up” (Tyler Giannini/IHRC Blog, May 23, 2017)