So. Africa: OECD refuses to investigate a complaint detailing the role of European banks in supporting and profiting from apartheid

Author: Lee-Anne Bruce, Centre for Applied Legal Studies (South Africa), Published on: 6 August 2019

‘European authorities refuse to investigate apartheid's banks’ 29 July 2019

Authorities in Belgium & Luxembourg are refusing to investigate CALS' complaint detailing the role of European banks in supporting and profiting from apartheid. More than one year after submitting a complaint detailing the role of European banks in supporting and profiting from apartheid, CALS and Open Secrets have been informed that authorities in Belgium and Luxembourg are refusing to investigate these economic crimes. With no clear reason for their refusal to engage with our complaint, and after providing a response nine months late, we are forced to question the independence and effectiveness of these mechanisms. Open Secrets and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) share a common goal of holding businesses accountable for their complicity in crimes against humanity.

We believe that those who support and profit from the human rights abuses perpetrated under unjust systems like apartheid should be brought to justice and held accountable for their crimes. Because of this, in April 2018, CALS and Open Secrets laid a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD. The OECD is one of the only mechanisms available worldwide for holding businesses accountable for their roles in human rights abuses. Member countries around the world have national contact points which are intended to ensure multi-national corporations based in their countries comply with the business operations and accountability standards in the OECD’s Guidelines – and to investigate when they do.

Our complaint provided detailed evidence gathered by Open Secrets, including opinions from leading experts in the financial sector, against two European banks responsible for sustaining and strengthening the system of apartheid. Belgium’s Kredietbank (now known as KBC Group) and its sister bank in Luxembourg (now known as KBL) are responsible for facilitating ilicit money flows that allowed the apartheid regime to secretly buy weapons despite mandatory arms sanctions introduced by the United Nations in the 1970s and 1980s. These weapons were essential in enabling domestic repression, the apartheid state’s wars and attempts to destablise other governments and liberation movements in southern Africa. Not only was the banks’ assistance vital to keeping the apartheid government in power, but they also profited from these transactions – building their companies on the suffering of millions of people. Apartheid was not only evil in practice, but has been declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations

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