Clémence Bectarte, who has led the case for the last decade as a lawyer for the FIDH, says it is a significant victory, but that there is still a long way to go.
“I don’t want to be too optimistic, because past experience has shown that we should not be,” Bectarte says. “When you look at attempts to hold these companies accountable, you see a lot of failures because of insufficient legal frameworks, an imbalance of power because these corporations sometimes have influence on state decisions, a lack of political willingness—all of which means we still face strong obstacles.”
Decisions and non-decisions
Gaddafi bought packet monitoring spyware—surveillance tools that eavesdrop on all internet traffic—from Amesys during the country’s civil war. That sale, reportedly made thanks to a favor from former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was himself convicted on corruption charges earlier this year, led to aggressive use of the systems against the regime’s opponents.
While most countries have some rules and regulations regarding the export of surveillance tools and other weapons, the French case is complex because of the background for each deal. The sales to Libya were never formally approved by the French government because there was no existing regulation covering such technology when the deal was originally made in 2007. In the case of Egypt, the French government did not explicitly approve or disapprove of the sale, a non-decision that nevertheless allowed it to move forward.
“These cases shed light on the necessity for governments to have stronger regulations and export controls over surveillance technologies with potential to be used in human rights abuses,” says Bectarte.
The same investigation is also looking into sales of surveillance technology to Saudi Arabia. Bectarte could not comment on that specific case because of the ongoing investigation.
“I want to underline the courage of the individuals who came to court to testify about what they had suffered, their arrests, and the acts of torture they had been victims of,” she says. “When successes do happen, it relies on the determination of victims and civil society. We need to continue the fight, because corporate accountability is essential. There are objective links between corporate activities and human rights abuses.”
Nexa did not respond to a request for comment.