PARIS – Three rights groups have filed a lawsuit accusing France's biggest bank of complicity in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, for allegedly helping Rwandan authorities purchase weapons despite a U.N. arms embargo.
The three organizations — Sherpa, Ibuka France and CPCR — said in a statement Thursday that BNP bank is suspected of authorizing transfers worth $1.3 million from the Rwandan state bank to arms dealer Willem Ehlers in June 1994.
Ehlers is believed to have subsequently supplied 80 tons of weapons to Rwandan Hutu military authorities via intermediaries, according to the activist groups.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in a Paris court, which will assess whether to pursue an investigation, according to Sherpa legal adviser Marie-Laure Guislain.
The bank, now called BNP Paribas, said in a statement Thursday that it would not comment until it has further information. There was no immediate comment from Rwanda's government.
The Rwandan genocide — in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists — remains a sensitive subject in France, which long supported the Hutu-led Rwandan government.
The rights groups argue that the banking world was well aware by June 1994 of the crimes taking place in Rwanda, and that BNP should have known the purpose of the money transfers. Their statement sketches out a web of alleged financial and weapons transactions involving BNP, Ehlers and the then-director of the Rwandan Ministry of Defense, Col. Theoneste Bagosora.
Bagosora was later convicted of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in one of the court's most significant verdicts.
France is also holding war crimes trials for suspected perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide.