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{UAH} Africa: BNP Paribas accused of complicity in Rwandan genocide

Africa: BNP Paribas accused of complicity in Rwandan genocide
Olivier Holmey
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BNP Paribas was on Wednesday accused of complicity in the Rwandan genocide, in the latest charge linking France to the massacres of 1994 – and the first linking a French bank specifically to those events.

Three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have brought a lawsuit against BNP Paribas, alleging that BNP – the events took place before the merger with Paribas – knowingly approved a $1.3 million transfer from the Rwandan central bank to an arms dealer, even as the genocide was taking place.

A UN arms embargo on Rwanda was in place at the time of the transaction, the NGOs said.

There is no statute of limitations on genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, so BNPP could in theory be charged for its role in Rwanda at the time. The bank has so far declined to comment.

Asked by Euromoney about the lawsuit on Friday, in Kigali, Rwanda's finance minister Claver Gatete evaded the question, saying that he was awaited at a cabinet meeting.

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John Rwangombwa

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The Rwandan central bank governor John Rwangombwa told Euromoney he was aware of the news that BNP Paribas was being sued, before declining to comment because, he said, he hadn't had time to look at the report.

When pressed, he said he would look at the matter more carefully, "if required by any official channels".

Asked whether the central bank might take any measures against BNPP, he said none could be taken, as the central bank had no relationship today with BNPP, adding: "We don't have BNP Paribas here [in Rwanda], we don't have any operations with them."

Rwanda had close ties with France until 1994, as did Rwanda's banking sector with the French banking sector. That changed after the genocide, owing to France's potential complicity in those events.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries resumed in 2009, but have remained strained, as France's role in the massacres continues to be a matter of public debate and legal challenge in France and Rwanda.

The claim against BNPP was brought by Sherpa, an NGO focused on defending the victims of economic crimes, together with the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda and Ibuka France – two NGOs that assist survivors of the Rwandan genocide.

The claimants alleged that another European institution, the Brussels Lambert Bank, had refused the Rwandan central bank's transfer request, on the basis it would contravene the arms embargo. They added that BNP "knew necessarily" the destination of the funds, and knew the money could contribute to the ongoing genocide.


In the press release announcing the claim, the three groups noted the novelty of the action, and the consequences it would have if the bank were found guilty.

"This is the first time such a complaint is initiated against a bank in France on such a legal basis," the NGOs said. "If the facts were to be proven, it would highlight the potential responsibility of investors in armed conflicts and more generally in serious violation of human rights."

The claim comes just days after a report published in Revue XXI, a French quarterly magazine, alleged that the French state knowingly armed those responsible for the massacres.

The claim is based on the account of a high-level civil servant who has allegedly had access to the classified French archives relating to the Rwandan conflict.

In October, Rwandan president Paul Kagame suggested diplomatic relations with France could once again be severed. In November, Rwanda opened a formal investigation into 20 French officials suspected of involvement in the genocide.

Rwanda's financial sector has changed markedly since the events of 1994. Neither the central bank governor nor the finance minister held those positions at the time.

Speaking on Thursday of the country's progress since the genocide, Diane Karusisi, the CEO of Bank of Kigali, one of the country's leading banks, told Euromoney: "It's unbelievable to think that 20 years ago people were dying at the fastest pace in human history, and today it's completely safe."


Gwokto La'Kitgum
"Even a small dog can piss on a tall building" Jim Hightower

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