UN expert calls for reform of corporate accountability measures
- CALS and Open Secrets
Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky argues that our work trying to hold apartheid's banks to account shows the need for urgent reform of the OECD accountability mechanism
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 which includes the crime of apartheid.
On 27 April 2018, CALS and Open Secrets laid a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (the OECD) that provided detailed evidence gathered by Open Secrets, against two European banks allegedly responsible for sustaining and strengthening the system of apartheid. Belgium’s Kredietbank (now known as KBC Group) and its sister bank in Luxembourg (KBL) are responsible for facilitating illicit money flows (like money laundering) 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, and in the apartheid state’s wars and attempts to destabilise 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 had been declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations.
The OECD’s national contact points in Belgium and Luxembourg, tasked with investigating this complaint, have shown little interest in these crimes and the process was riddled with conflicts of interest that ultimately resulted in a decision not to investigate the complaint. Read the full complaint to the OECD here or find out more about it here.
Today we welcome a statement released by UN Independent Expert on Debt and Human Rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, who argues that this case highlights the need for urgent reform of the OECD corporate accountability mechanism as it, “highlighted the need to establish an independent committee to review potential procedural flaws”. Bohoslavsky, who has held this independent position within the UN system since 2014, was supported in his finding by an endorsement by Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.
Commenting on the serious case of conflicts of interested raised by Open Secrets and CALS Bohoslavsky went on to add that, “I am also shocked about the fact that some representatives of the private sector’s NCP committee included KBC Group, and that despite numerous requests from the complainants to address the potential and apparent conflict of interest, no meaningful action was taken during or after the process. Being judge and judged at the same time is against basic legal principles.”
He added, “The appearance of conflict of interest remains and seriously undermines the credibility of the process. One aim was to shed light on alleged financial contributions to a criminal regime and ultimately understand how these actors could have allegedly contributed to its consolidation. This is about the victims’ fundamental right to the truth.”
Both Open Secrets and CALS remain committed to seeing accountability for complicity in these grave crimes by some of the world’s leading financial institutions.
Please see the full statement below:
Apartheid and bank complicity case: UN expert urges reform of OECD review mechanism to protect human rights
GENEVA (27 April 2020) – OECD Member States should consider establishing a mechanism to prevent conflict of interest of their National Contact Points (NPC’s) corporate review process to strengthen the procedure and its credibility. Conflicts of interest must be prevented in order to not undermine accountability for gross human rights violations, a UN expert said today.
The UN Independent Expert on debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, said a case alleging the involvement of two European banks in illegal arms dealings by South Africa’s apartheid regime highlighted the need to establish an independent committee to review potential procedural flaws.
Member States of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which represents the 36 wealthiest countries, established National Contact Points (NPCs) at the national level as an independent mechanism reviewing responsible business conduct including the respect of human rights.
In May 2018, civil society organisations submitted a complaint to NCPs of Belgium and Luxembourg alleging that KBL Bank and KBC Group of Belgium allowed South African state-owned enterprise Armscor to fund and conceal weapons purchases in violation of a UN embargo, as well as offering financial vehicles for money-laundering.
Bohoslavsky said the complaints were dismissed at a preliminary stage without full consideration of the evidence and ignoring the arguments made in his amicus curiae on the legal implications of responsibility for financial complicity in gross human rights violations and the paramount importance of the right to truth in this case.
“I am also shocked about the fact that some representatives of the private sector’s NCP committee included KBC Group, and that despite numerous requests from the complainants to address the potential and apparent conflict of interest, no meaningful action was taken during or after the process. Being judge and judged at the same time is against basic legal principles,” the Independent Expert said.
Bohoslavsky said he agreed with OECD that States should ensure National Contact Points operate impartially and without any risk of real or perceived conflict of interest.
“The appearance of conflict of interest remains and seriously undermines the credibility of the process. One aim was to shed light on alleged financial contributions to a criminal regime and ultimately understand how these actors could have allegedly contributed to its consolidation. This is about the victims’ fundamental right to the truth.
“It is key to guarantee that OECD’s review mechanism works properly in each member State and to ensure accountability for human rights violations, including in the context of gross human rights violations,” Bohoslavsky said.
However, he stressed: “In general, the authorities must ensure that potential victims have access to effective remedies for alleged human rights violations and that businesses act in accordance with their human rights obligations in all their operations.
“Ensuring that victims can exercise their basic right to truth and know what happened during apartheid, is essential,” the Independent Expert said.
NOTE TO EDITORS:
This issue was brought to the attention of concerned authorities in 2019: Belgium, Luxembourg and OECD. The Independent expert is grateful for responses received, from Belgium and OECD. The Independent Expert presented a report on responsibility for financial complicity to the Human Rights Council in 2015.
Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky(Argentina) was appointed as Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rightsby the United Nations Human Rights Council on 8 May 2014. He has previously worked as a Sovereign Debt Expert for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) where he coordinated an Expert Group on Responsible Sovereign Lending and Borrowing. He is independent of any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.
The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
The Independent Expert’s appeal has been endorsed by Mr. Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.
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