Chicago Journal of International Law

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Recent decisions by U.S. courts have attacked the ability of human rights victims to hold corporations accountable for their complicity in atrocities around the world. This Article argues that in the face of this attack, advocates and scholars have given insufficient attention to a potent strategy—holding corporate officers liable. It examines the corporate officer liability question through the lens of tort liability, focusing on those officers with superior responsibility over their subordinates who physically commit the violations. It is the first to provide a systematic analysis of how superior officer liability under tort and international law approaches to superior responsibility and criminal liability might provide a basis for greater accountability for corporate officers. This Article examines the historical origins of military and state civilian command responsibility, the trials of civilian corporate officials in Nuremberg and Tokyo jurisprudence following World War II, the special international and hybrid criminal tribunals first established in the 1990s, and tort cases in the U.S. and other jurisdictions. In so doing, this Article complements important parallel efforts to hold corporations liable. This Article considers options for officer liability in situations when governments cannot or will not bring criminal charges, or when bringing claims against the officer may be the most efficient means of changing corporate behavior. It concludes that human rights law, international criminal law, and domestic tort and related liability standards all provide liability for corporate officers under a theory of superior responsibility for human rights violations. This common core standard provides an important tool for compensating victims of past abuses and deterring ongoing or future human rights violations.

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