As Lafarge Cement Syria's Jalabiyeh cement plant burns again, survivors of ISIS still await justice

As Lafarge Cement Syria’s Jalabiyeh cement plant burns again, survivors of ISIS still await justice

This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the Yazidi genocide in Sinjar, Iraq. Beginning on the night of 2 – 3 August 2014, ISIS displaced the entire Yazidi population from its homeland, amid a campaign of abductions and killings that claimed 12,000 victims.1 A striking detail of this and other crimes of the self-proclaimed caliphate is the proximity of a Western corporate actor: cement producer Lafarge, whose subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria operated the Jalabiyeh cement plant in neighbouring northern Syria. On-going investigations have since helped uncover what may amount to complicity on the part of Lafarge and Lafarge Cement Syria in the form of payments dating back to August 2013.2

In a week that began with the abandoned Jalabiyeh cement plant ablaze following a drone strike,3 Lafarge learned that it will face trial in France over its alleged complicity in crimes against humanity committed by ISIS.4 On 16 January 2024, the French Court of Cassation upheld Lafarge and Lafarge Cement Syrias’ indictments on the charge. Also reportedly indicted are (all former) Lafarge CEOs Bruno Lafont and Eric Olsen, vice president Christian Herrault and security director Jean-Claude Veillard and Lafarge Cement Syria CEOs Bruno Pescheux and Frédéric Jolibois, along with an intermediary and a Jordan-based risk management consultant.5, 6 The collaboration in question includes monthly payments to ISIS and other armed groups worth US$15.5m, a lower French court found in May 2022. It may be more than another 20 months before the thorny mass of issues to be considered by the court resolves itself in convictions, or cleared names.

Another front in Lafarge and Lafarge Cement Syria’s legal battle over what happened in Syria is the US civil court system. Activist and survivor Nadia Murad and 426 other Yazidis have filed an Anti-Terrorism Act claim for damages, based on the companies’ previous guilty plea to the US Department of Justice to conspiracy to the tune of US$5.92m in October 2022. Murad and fellow claimants allege ‘far higher’ total payments, pointing to correspondence between Lafarge Cement Syria and its intermediary that references ‘[sic] ten millions that we pay directly to them, i.e. to ISIS.’ The DoJ estimates the total value of the conspiracy for all parties at US$80.5m.

On 6 August 2014 (the fourth day of the Yazidi genocide), Lafarge and Lafarge Cement Syria signalled their agreement to enter into a new long-term agreement to share their revenues with ISIS. On 15 August 2014, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 2170 condemning ‘any engagement in direct or indirect trade’ with the organisation.7 Lafarge and Lafarge Cement Syria allegedly concluded the revenue-sharing agreement, under new terms more beneficial to ISIS, on that same day.

Lafarge Cement Syria finally evacuated the Jalabiyeh cement plant in September 2014, whereupon ISIS added it to its own five-plant international cement network, with sales worth US$583m/yr. The US-led Coalition bombed the site in October 2019 and it was subsequently occupied by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) forces. The strike on 14 January 2024 was part of a drone campaign by Turkish forces against Kurdish positions that the invaders say destroyed 23 targets.

It is conceivable that Turkish armed forces also had personal reasons for destroying this monument to Lafarge’s former presence in the region: on Lafarge’s stipulation, ISIS implemented a duty on Turkish cement entering its area of control, ostensibly charged at US$150/truck. As anyone familiar with the Turkish cement sector knows, one of the major investors in the industry happens to be the country’s military pension fund.

For the 400,000 Yazidis who have survived, the tragedy that began in August 2014 will not end soon. More than half remain in refugee camps. Among the missing are 2000 girls and women who the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism suspect ISIS may have ‘further entrenched in human trafficking,’ constituing a continuation of the genocide that has outlasted both the self-proclaimed caliphate and the French multinational that may have helped to bankroll it.8 Courts in different countries are helping bring to light a reign of terror that spanned international borders. In the US, some of its victims may find redress, while in France, justice may be closing in on anyone who might prove to have made common cause with the perpetrators.