Judicial Investigation Opened Into BNP Paribas’ Role in Atrocities in Sudan
PARIS, France – On 26 August 2020, a judicial investigation was opened into BNP Paribas S.A.’s alleged role in mass atrocities in Sudan before the war crimes unit (pôle crimes contre l’humanité, crimes et délits de guerre) of the Tribunal of Paris, nearly a year after Project Expedite Justice (PEJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the French Human Rights League (LDH) along with nine Sudanese victims, filed a criminal complaint with investigative judges in Paris.
In September 2019, FIDH and LDH, with support from PEJ, the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies and the Sudan Human Rights Monitor, filed a criminal complaint against the bank on behalf of nine Sudanese plaintiffs, marking the first attempt to hold a French financial institution criminally responsible for alleged complicity in international crimes committed in Sudan. In the criminal complaint against BNP Paribas and its Swiss subsidiary, the plaintiffs allege that the bank is responsible for complicity in torture, genocide and crimes against humanity committed in Sudan between at least 2002 and 2008, in addition to the financial crimes of money laundering and handling the proceeds of crime.
“PEJ strongly believes that secondary actors profiting from mass atrocities are responsible for their role in the commission of atrocities. The opening of this judicial investigation is another step towards justice and an opportunity for the voices of victims to be heard,” said Cynthia Tai, Executive Director of PEJ.
Following the decision of the French Senior Investigation Judge of the Paris Tribunal to open a judicial investigation into the bank’s role in violations committed in Sudan, three investigative judges were appointed to the case. Now, the nine Sudanese plaintiffs as well as FIDH and LDH are becoming civil parties in this case. Soon, the civil parties will be allowed access to the confidential case file (through their lawyers) and will actively contribute to the investigation by filing briefs, procedural motions and requests for investigative action.
If the investigating judges believe there is sufficient evidence during the course of the investigation, they will summon the suspects and charge them. The investigating judges may decide to charge BNPP and its Swiss subsidiary as corporations, and any individual who may be considered responsible, in particular senior staff at the bank at the time of the alleged facts. Given the complexity of the case, it is expected that any judicial investigation would last a few years.
“We hope that the French judges will be able to quickly obtain the results of the U.S. Department of Justice probe – this would be key to moving forward in their investigation, and one step closer to justice for those who suffered torture, crimes against humanity, and genocide,” said lawyer Clémence Bectarte, lawyer and coordinator of FIDH’s litigation action group. “The Sudanese civil parties we represent are eager to testify before French judges.”
If convicted for such offences, individual executives could face a term of imprisonment. BNPP as a corporation could face a fine up to five times that applicable to individuals, as well as a wide range of other measures including dissolution, being placed under judicial supervision, or being prohibited from receiving public funding. In addition, the civil parties may claim damages from BNPP to compensate them for the harm suffered as a result of the bank’s criminal conduct.
Described as Sudan’s “de facto central bank,” BNP Paribas (BNPP) has admitted to acting as the primary foreign bank to the Sudanese government between 2002 and 2008. During this period, the government – through its military and security forces and Janjaweed militias – committed widespread human rights violations amounting to international crimes (including torture, crimes against humanity and genocide) against Sudanese civilians in Darfur as well as other marginalised areas inside Sudan. As a result of the Sudanese government’s actions, tens of thousands of Sudanese activists and ordinary civilians were killed, forcibly displaced from their homes, detained, tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment or raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence.
In 2005, the United Nations Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC is investigating allegations of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur since 1 July 2002. The ICC issued several arrest warrants in the framework of its Darfur investigation, including against former president Omar al-Bashir. Recently, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, surrendered himself to the court. He is suspected of having committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
This is not the first time that the French bank has faced legal action regarding Sudan. BNPP’s close connection with the Sudanese government came to light in June 2014 as part of a criminal prosecution against the bank in the U.S. BNPP was charged with violating U.S. sanctions restricting financial transactions with Sudan, Iran, and Cuba.
Pursuant to a plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, BNPP forfeited almost 9 billion USD. The Department of Justice attempted to allocate a portion of these funds to the survivors of the Sudan conflict. PEJ assisted some of these survivors in completing applications for restitution to the Department of Justice. However, the Sudanese survivors did not ultimately receive any compensation as the U.S. Congress diverted the funds to victims of domestic terrorist attacks. PEJ then began pursuing other avenues of justice on behalf of the survivors and eventually partnered with FIDH to pursue a case in France.
PEJ is a nonprofit organization that was founded by Cynthia Tai, former U.S. and ICC prosecutor, in 2016 to help victims of mass atrocities and serious human rights abuses pursue justice through all available legal mechanisms. PEJ is an innovator in the legal field, working to change the way mass atrocities and conflicts are examined, analyzed, and addressed. Our unique model of training, case-focused mentoring, and legal representation empowers the local populations to seek accountability and increases access to justice. PEJ has undertaken a range of successful projects across Sudan, Ethiopia, Cambodia, South Sudan and Uganda.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is an international human rights NGO federating 192 organisations from 117 countries. Since 1922, FIDH has defended all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.