More than two decades after Rwanda suffered one of the world’s deadliest genocides, questions about what really happened and who was responsible still abound.
The Rwandan government has repeatedly accused its French counterpart for the genocide, which left close to one million people dead and millions of others displaced. It was not until recently that France apologized for the mass killings.
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But despite the admission of guilt, France has yet to prosecute a single individual or entity for the crimes committed in Rwanda.
It’s against this backdrop that three civil right groups in France have gone to court calling for the prosecution of the French financial giant BNP Paribas for its alleged participation in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Sherpa, the Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda and Ibuka France, are accusing BNP Paribas of allowing the transfer of $1.3 million for the purchase of weapons used in the Rwandan violence.
In the lawsuit, which was filed in June, the groups argue that the bank transferred the money one month after the United Nations imposed an arms embargo against Rwanda.
On Monday, the French public prosecutor announced the start of investigations into the alleged involvement of the bank in the deadly violence in East Africa. The investigations, which the prosecution insists do not imply guilt, are being handled by three French investigating magistrates.
While the probe doesn’t mean the bank is guilty of the crime, it certainly implies that the prosecution believes the complaints filed by the rights groups and the information acquired from preliminary investigations into the case merit further probe.
Three years ago, the bank was charged a record $8.9 billion fine and forced to take a guilty plea by U.S. regulators after it was found guilty of violating U.S. sanctions by allowing transactions of more than $30 billion by groups in Cuba, Iran and Sudan for the period between 2002 and 2012.
In a statement emailed to the Financial Times yesterday, the bank downplayed the issue as a mechanical and mandatory step in a complaint of this nature.
“It is not in any way a new development. This relates to a topic which dates back to 1994,” the statement read in part.
It further denied having received the formal complaint, insisting that it doesn’t have full knowledge of the substance of the complaint.
“Given these conditions, it is not possible for us to comment in further details,” BNP said.
The Rwandan genocide, which was between the country’s two main ethnic groups, Hutu and Tutsi, broke out in April 1994 after the death of the then President of Rwanda Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when a plane he was travelling in was shot down as it attempted to land at Kigali Airport.
The majority Hutus went on a rampage, killing hundreds of thousands of minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus for the President’s assassination. More than 22 years after the horrific tragedy, the East African country is still dealing with the aftermath of the war.
There are ongoing efforts to reconcile the population and ensure such killings do not happen again in the future.