Professor Flora Sapio

Comments to Article 7 of the Zero Draft of the Legally Binding Instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises

Article 7. Applicable law

1. Subject to the following paragraph, all matters of substance or procedure regarding claims before the competent court which are not specifically regulated in the Convention shall be governed by the law of that court, including any rules of such law relating to conflict of laws.

2. At the request of victims, all matters of substance regarding human rights law relevant to claims before the competent court may be governed by the law of another Party where the involved person with business activities of a transnational character is domiciled. The competent court may request for mutual legal assistance as referred to under Article 11 of this Convention.

3. The Convention does not prejudge the recognition and protection of any rights of victims that may be provided under applicable domestic law.


Article 7 of the Legally Binding Instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises was scheduled for discussion on Tuesday October 2018, from 10 AM to 13 PM, together with articles 6 (Statute of Limitations) and 13 (Consistency with International Law).

After an introduction by the Chair, Luis Gallego Chiriboga, permanent representative of Ecuador at the UN in Geneva, comments on Article 7 were submitted by 4 experts. Written comments specific to Article 7 were submitted by:

• 8 states (Chile, China, India, Mexico, Namibia, Peru, the Russian Federation, South Africa)

• 4 NGOs.

Comments by Experts

Lilián Galán, Member of the Parliament of Uruguay: it is necessary to eliminate the word “relevant”, referring to “human rights law”, because all human rights law are relevant, and this provision only expands the margins for companies and states to discuss what rights are important or not for those affected.

It is essential to have a guiding principle which provides, in case of conflicts of law, that the law most beneficial to those affected should apply. We recommend this notion is explicitly incorporated in the second paragraph of this article.

The text of this article should include provisions facilitating victims in their choice of applicable law. Victims are in a disadvantaged situation from multiple aspects, compared to companies involved. It is important to allow victims to assert their rights and make this treaty prevail over international treaties of a commercial nature.

Written comments by Nicolas Guerrero, Senior Legal Officer, WHO FCTC Secretariat are not available on the OHCHR website.

Written comments by Sam Zia-Zarifi, Secretary General, International Commission of Jurists are not available on the OHCHR website.

Makbule Sahan, International Trade Union Confederation: I would like to express that we consider article 7 on applicable law generally as helpful. We have some comments regarding the clarity of the language used, which you can find in the joint position of the trade unions.

Comments by States

Written comments on Article 7 were submitted by 8 states: Chile, China, India, Mexico, Namibia, Peru, the Russian Federation, South Africa

Chile: more precision is needed in the drafting of this article, given it relates to substantive and procedura aspects and in our opinion is written in an “open” form, which may cause divergent interpretations.

It should be debated whether the inclusion of paragraph 2 in the Draft Treaty is relevant. This article involves a complex procedure, that could lend itself to a series of abuses and divergent interpretations. One of the interpretations possible under this paragraph is that claims of human rights violations may be known by the court of a country other than the one where the fact occurred. The court may be able to apply their own national law to evaluate the conduct of the company, if national legislation on conflict of law allows. This would indirectly imply an evaluation of the conduct of the State where the fact occurred.

China: the concept of choice of law reflected in the article applies only to civil proceedings and does not apply to criminal cases.

Unlike contract cases, the applicability of law is a mandatory norm of national legal systems, which should not be altered “at the request of victims”, in line with general principles of law. Paragraph 1 of Article 7 should refer to generally applicable rule in domestic legislation, included the law relating to conflict of laws. If good reasons and a legal basis exist, provisions on conflict of law in the state of the competent court can point to laws in the state where the TNC is located. Paragraph 2 can therefore be deleted.

India: this article needs more clarity, particularly with respect to paragraph 2. The term “involved persons” need to be well defined to avoid any ambiguity. Providing a “choice of law” option needs adequate safeguards to avoid forum shopping. The Draft Treaty should provide guidace to establish a genuine relation between the violation and the chosen law.

Mexico: Mexico expressed its concerns over the following:

  • paragraph 2 allows victims to invoke the legislation of the host state of TNCs. This may provoke reservations and objections, given the national regulation of the applicable law and jurisdiction, restrictions justified by public order, or by other reasons that limit the applicability of foreign law;

  • the Draft Treaty should incorporate a language allowing Parties to produce reciprocal obligations to modify domestic legislation, to allow for actions initiated by citizens of another State party. Actions are to include those cases when, according to the domestic criteria for jurisdiction, jurisdiction can be exerted or acknowledged by more than one state.

Namibia: the purpose of MLA is to provide States the opportunity and ability to solve many complex legal issues even where a conflict of laws exists. Thus, it can be employed also with regards to this treaty.

Peru: this article is redacted in a very general form, and allows no limits to applicable legislation. In some respects it reminds of a most-favorite-nation clause. This clause originates from other fields of international law, and furthermore has ceased to be used. In this respect we echo the commentary of the Russian Federation.

We consider that this article should be sent to the International Law Commission for comments.

Russian Federation: we can not comment on paragraph 2 of Article 7. It provides for the right of the victim of a violation to require that the substantive issues be considered by the court under the law of the other Party. In general, the choice of applicable law is a category of civil law. This, as a rule, is about the right of two parties to a commercial transaction with a foreign element to agree that it will be governed by the law of any one state. In criminal proceedings, this principle, to our knowledge, does not apply. The national court examines the criminal case and passes judgment on the laws of its state, if necessary, taking into account the law of the place of the crime.

It is hard to imagine, Mr. President, that, for example, a judge in Ecuador will pass judgment on someone on the basis of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Namely, this possibility is now mentioned in paragraph 2 of Article 7 – it is not limited to civil claims. But even if this is so, it is unclear how this logic relates to the principle of equality of the parties to a dispute before the law and the court.

South Africa: providing victims with the choice of the most favorable applicable law, between theat of the State where the harm occurred (home state) or where the TNC is domiciled (host state) is paramount. There are circumstances when a victim is not able to utilize the courts of the home or the host state, but those of a third state, and this needs to be taken into account.

The applicable law should make reference to competent regional courts as an avenue of remedy.

Comments by NGOs

FIAN International: we fully support Article 6. On the one hand, it corresponds to the definition of jurisdiction in a broad manner, and on the other hand, it strengthens the protection of victims as they can choose the law which is more favourable to them.

FoEI: Article 7 should be better coordinated with Article 5. It should make explicit that any dispute between States, or between a State and a TNC that may affect human rights should always primarily be subject to international human rights law, or to the legislation most favorable to persons affected.

For more details we refer to the commentary to Proyect Cero, presented by CETIM, IPS y FoEI in name of the Campaign, and to the Treaty of People we presented during the 3rd Session.

International Indian Treaty Council: none of the rights elaborated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are mentioned in the zero draft. Since the first session of the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, there has been consensus that Indigenous peoples worldwide suffer the greatest human rights abuses by transnational corporations and business enterprises. We recommend that this Declaration be added to the List of Documents consulted for the preparation of this treaty. We recommend that CERD General Recommendation No. 23 on the Rights of Indigenous peoples be added to the list of documents consulted.

Article 7 fails to recognize Indigenous laws and customs. Article 11 of the UNDRIP addresses situations of redress developed with Indigenous peoples where property was taken in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.

International Organization of Employers: the text on “Applicable Law” would result in the extraterritorial application of one State’s domestic law in another jurisdiction. There are many problems with this:

  • The focus placed on expanding extraterritorial jurisdiction does not respect national sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other States.

  • The provisions take the focus off the need for States to improve victims’ access to effective remedy at the domestic and local level.

  • They ignore the practical and procedural shortcomings of extraterritorial jurisdiction

  • Furthermore, this text contradicts the internationally recognized principle of the Rome II Regulation – under which the law in the jurisdiction where the tort occurred applies in general.

Comments to Article 6 of the Zero Draft of the Legally Binding Instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises

Article 6. Statute of limitations

1. Statutes of limitations shall not apply to violations of international human rights law which constitute crimes under international law. Domestic statutes of limitations for other types of violations that do not constitute crimes under international law, including those time limitations applicable to civil claims and other procedures, should not be unduly restrictive and shall allow an adequate period of time for the investigation and prosecution of the violation, particularly in cases where the violations occurred abroad.


This is article affirms concepts, principles and rights contained, among others, in the following international instruments:


Article 6 of the Legally Binding Instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises was scheduled for discussion on Tuesday October 2018, from 10 AM to 13 PM, together with articles 7 (Applicable Law) and 13 (Consistency with International Law).

After an introduction by the Chair, Luis Gallego Chiriboga, permanent representative of Ecuador at the UN in Geneva, comments on Article 6 were submitted by 4 experts. Written comments specific to Article 6 were submitted by:

• 10 states (Argentina, Chile, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Namibia, Peru, Russian Federation, South Africa)

• 2 NGOs

Comments by Experts

Lilián Galán, Member of the Parliament of Uruguay: the wording of article 6 includes non-binding language as the reference that states “should”, which gives this provision the character of a recommendation. The scope of the statute of limitation in civil and administrative cases is not clear. This article uses indeterminate legal concepts, and this reduces the capacity to impose effective obligations on states in relation to the prescription of human rights violations.

Written comments by Nicolas Guerrero, Senior Legal Officer, WHO FCTC Secretariat are not available on the OHCHR website.

Written comments by Sam Zia-Zarifi, Secretary General, International Commission of Jurists are not available on the OHCHR website.

Makbule Sahan, International Trade Union Confederation (representing 207 million workers in 163 countries): with respect to the articles we are discussing this morning, I would like to express that we consider article 6 on the statute of limitation and article 7 on applicable law generally as helpful. We have some comments regarding the clarity of the language used, which you can find in the joint position of the trade unions.

Comments by States

Written comments on Article were submitted by Argentina, Chile, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Namibia, Peru, Russian Federation, and South Africa.

Argentina: domestic statutes on limitations can change depending on the legal system of each state, therefore they are not uniform. Article 6 states that the period of prescription for civil claims should not be restrictive. Proposals that contravene provisions of domestic legal systems cannot be ruled out.

Chile: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are not subject to the statute of limitation. This is a binding norm for all states, but a consensus on statutes of limitations for other types of violations does not exist. Therefore it is not appropriate for Article 6 to make allusions to the statutes of limitation for crimes under international law (crímenes de derecho internacional). If this article remained in its current form it would generate controversies among states. Terms as “unduly restrictive”, “adequate period”, and “particularly in cases where the violations occurred abroad” are in need of an explanation relevant to their inclusion in or elimination from the text.

China: the provision about “crimes under international law” is not relevant to the statues of limitations. First, the concept of “crimes under international law” is not clear, and existing international instruments do not provide a commonly accepted definition. Interpretation of this concept can lead to inconsistency and uncertainty, and does not meet the principle of legality. The Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity was ratified only by 55 state parties. The introduction in this Treaty of a statute of limitation without a clear scope and definition will constitute an obstacle to the participation of states. In applying the statute of limitation for other acts, national law should be universally applicable, without distinctions based on the cause of the claim or the identity of the claimant.

Egypt: my delegation believes that the statute of limitations should be linked to the time when the violation occurred in the framework of the Legally Binding Instrument became known. In addition, the host country should be aware of the occurrence of such violation. Article 6.1 needs to be re-drafted according to article 8.3, which requires all State parties to investigate all human rights violations and take actions against allegedly responsible persons.

India: on Article 6, there is a reference to the phrase ‘crimes under international law’. It is pertinent that the instrument should define what constitutes a crime under international law in the domain of business and human rights.

Mexico: the provision about the statute of limitations is already included in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, therefore its inclusion in this project is not necessary. Concerning the statute of limitation for violations of human rights that do not constitute international crimes, expressions as “should not be unduly restrictive” and “adequate period” are imprecise and subject to the interpretation of each state. In the medium term they will give rise to disputes among contracting parties. We consider it appropriate to replace the term “unduly restrictive” (excesivamente restrictivas) with “unnecessarily restrictive” (innecesariamente restrictivas).

Namibia: in Namibia we have a statute of limitation, which prescribes time limits for civil action, in which category most of the cases would fall and some criminal cases and we will have to consult in great detail on the way forward. However, one thing we are clear on is that victims should be granted a fair and reasonable opportunity to bring a matter before a court that has jurisdiction for adjudication. The way for an indigent victim to the doors of the courts is never an easy one and can take many years because of obvious reasons. Piercing of the corporate veil and other mechanisms used to establish culpability are often time consuming and complicated procedures. Provision should be made for prescription to be interrupted and/or being extended in cases based on violation of human rights by TNC’s especially because of the complexities of their transnational character. We should be weary of making a fallacy of the remedies to be offered in terms of this treaty as the focus is on these remedies.

Peru: this article is of difficult application because it does not practically introduce any limitation to the cases that can be brought before a court.

Russian Federation: this rule is so general that it does not allow to establish what particular actions are in question. However, in such matters there should be absolute clarity, as they relate to the rights not only of the victims, but also of the persons who are brought to justice. Today there is no comprehensive list of international crimes enshrined in a single treaty. International crimes are defined in the statutes of the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. The 1948 Convention also included genocide as an international crime. If Article 6 refers only to these universally recognized international crimes, this should be specified. International crimes as territorism, hostage-taking, money laundering, piracy, drug trafficking and others are covered by existing conventions. The question arises whether such crimes are covered by Article 6.

This procedurally important article contains categories that do not have a clear definition, such as “unduly restrictive” and “adequate period”.

South Africa: it is imperative that the treaty not only apply to all violations of international human rights law but also to international humanitarian law which constitutes crimes under international law. There must be no hierarchy of human rights. South African courts approach a conflict over competing rights by attempting to find a balance between the various rights, instead of promoting one over the other.

South Africa comes from a brutal history of apartheid to which business was a central feature to the oppression of the majority of our people. As a “victims text” therefore, it would thus be a shame to limit this instrument to atrocities which have taken place after this Treaty has come into force.

Comments by NGOs

FIAN International: we support Article 6 as statute limitations can represent a barrier to access justice.

International Organization of Employers: the reference to “crimes under international law” is not clearly defined. When Article 6 says that that domestic statutes of limitations “should not be unduly restrictive and shall allow an adequate period of time for the investigation and prosecution of the violation…” the adverb “unduly” and the adjective “adequate” are very vague. This is a big problem for a proposed legally binding instrument. State parties must be able to limit liability to cases where there is a predictable and causal relationship between the damage and the action or omission.

Professor Sapio is the holder of a research position at the University “Orientale” in Naples, Italy. The views and opinions expressed on this website are her personal views only.

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