Rethinking the Outer Limits of Secondary Liability for International Crimes and Serious Human Rights Violations


In law wrongdoers can be held liable for wrongful acts. Direct wrongdoers may receive assistance in multiple ways from others. Secondary liability is about helping others in the commission of wrongful acts. As an example, one can think of an arms manufacturing company selling weapons to the Asad regime in Syria.
Especially in the case of serious human rights violations and international crimes, such as torture and genocide, it is important to have in place adequate mechanisms of secondary liability.
The research project aims at developing a theoretical background for determining the outer limits for liability of helpers, aiders and abettors -be they individuals, companies or states- in the commission of serious human rights violations.
When one takes into account the demands of protecting human rights, there is a gap in the current scope of and practices on secondary liability. The main challenge lies in developing a balance between the three areas of law where secondary liability occurs (civil, criminal, international) and the demands of human rights protection.
The project will consist of two major parts. First, three PhD candidates will thoroughly analyse the law and practice on secondary liability and evaluate its adequacy in light of human rights law. Second, the PI will compose a group of experts which will draft a comprehensive set of rules and principles on secondary liability that can be applied to complex instances of secondary liability in relation to serious human rights violations.
The innovative character of the proposal is that it is the first comprehensive analysis of secondary liability in respect of serious human rights violations.
The benefits for society are significant. Bearing in mind that major and widespread human rights violations cannot be committed without a wide network of support, the development and more effective use of secondary liability can be expected to be an important tool in human rights protection.


Project number


Main applicant

Prof. dr. mr. G.K. Sluiter

Affiliated with

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Rechtsgeleerdheid, Strafrechtwetenschappen

Team members

J.K. Mann, S.P. Polm, Prof. dr. mr. G.K. Sluiter, MB TIERNAN LLM, J.A. Trampert, S.M. Yau


01/09/2018 to 01/09/2023