Victims provide testimony on BNP Paribas’ alleged role in mass atrocities in Sudan

Laurent Grassin via Flickr

Paris – 18 March 2022. This week in Paris, four Sudanese victims, assisted by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH) and lawyers from Global Diligence Alliance, provided evidence as civil parties, to the French war crimes unit. The investigating judges interviewed the civil parties as part of an ongoing judicial investigation into French bank BNP Paribas’ alleged role in crimes against humanity, genocide, and torture in Sudan between 2002 and 2008.

This case marks the first attempt to hold a French financial institution criminally responsible for alleged complicity in international crimes committed in Sudan.

The stories of the survivors who testified in Paris this week represent a microcosm of the harm suffered by tens of thousands of Sudanese civilians since the conflict began in 2002. As civil parties, they are actively providing valuable contributions to the ongoing investigation.

“An important milestone has been reached this week, with the first civil parties heard by the investigating judges and investigators, nearly a year and a half after the judicial investigation was opened. We hope that the investigation will continue to progress in the coming months.”

Clémence Bectarte, and Emmanuel Daoud, the civil parties’ lawyers in the case

This case illustrates how financing repressive regimes – and thereby assisting or facilitating the commission of human rights violations – may open the door to potential corporate criminal liability.

“The civil parties’ testimonies help to expose the brutality of Omar al-Bashir’s regime and to highlight the need to prosecute the key enablers of atrocity crimes, including financial institutions. From Sudan to Russia and Ukraine, it is now clear that mass atrocities require mass funding.”

Kristin Rosella, a partner of Global Diligence LLP

Background: widespread mass atrocities against civilians in Darfur

BNP Paribas S.A. has admitted to acting as the primary foreign bank of the Sudanese government between 2002 and 2008. During this time, the Sudanese government committed widespread mass atrocities against civilians in Darfur and other marginalised Sudanese communities, with the help of its military forces and Janjaweed militias. During this time period, BNP Paribas was considered to be Sudan’s de facto central bank.

As a result of these attacks, tens of thousands of civilians and human rights activists were killed and subjected to torture, detention, forced displacement, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.

In 2005, the United Nations Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened an investigation for alleged genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur since 1 July 2002. The ICC issued several arrest warrants, including one against the former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.

BNP Paribas’ ties with the Sudanese government were brought to light in June 2014, when the bank was prosecuted in the United States for violating U.S. sanctions restricting financial transactions with Sudan, as well as Iran and Cuba.

The bank entered into a plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and other State and federal agencies, and ultimately, forfeited nearly nine billion USD. Although the U.S. Department of Justice initially attempted to use part of this sum to compensate the survivors of the Sudanese government’s crimes, the U.S. Congress reallocated the funds to victims of domestic terrorist attacks before any action could be taken, leaving Sudanese victims without hope of being compensated for their damages.

In order to allow victims to seek further justice and compensation, FIDH and lawyers from Global Diligence Alliance partnered to pursue a case in France, where BNP Paribas is headquartered.

Next steps

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 BNP Paribas and its Swiss subsidiary as corporations, and any individual who may be considered responsible, in particular senior leaders at the bank at the time of the alleged facts.

Given the complexity of the case, it is expected that the judicial investigation could last several years. At the end of the investigative phase, the investigating judges will issue a closing order, either dismissing the case or sending the bank and/or one or more senior executives to trial on charges of some or all of the offences under investigation.

If convicted of these offences, individual executives could face a term of imprisonment. As a corporation, BNP Paribas could face a substantial fine, up to five times the maximum fine for individuals, as well as 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 BNP Paribas as compensation for the harm suffered.

Founded in 1922 by 15 human rights groups, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) now unites 192 national organisations from 117 countries to collaborate on strategies and activities to promote universal human rights standards. FIDH acts with its member and partner organisations to monitor, document, and alert the international community about human rights violations.

Global Diligence Alliance (GD Alliance) is a U.S.-based nonprofit that is building a global legal alliance to address the most extreme forms of social, racial, economic, and environmental injustice around the world. Global Diligence LLP, a public interest legal advisory firm in the U.K., is a founding member of GD Alliance.

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