UN uses apartheid era sanctions busting case to review human rights violations


Apartheid era sanctions busting by Armscor is again the focus of civil society groups seeking accountability and now United Nations (UN) human rights experts have quoted it as an example of the need to review procedural flaws concerning human rights violations.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights said in a statement issued last week “apartheid and bank complicity” was behind its call for an OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) mechanism to protect human rights. This follows a decision by the OECD to reject a request for it to investigate apartheid era sanctions busting involving prominent European banks which were filed two years ago. The complaint was rejected by the OECD – but Open Secrets and the Centre for the Applied Legal Studies (CALS) have argued that the process was flawed.

Conflicts of interest must be prevented not to undermine accountability for gross human rights violations, UN Independent Expert on debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, is quoted as saying. He cited the complaint by Open Secrets and CALS detailing the involvement of two European banks in illegal arms dealings by South Africa’s apartheid regime as highlighting the need to establish an independent committee to review potential procedural flaws.

“In May 2018, civil society organisations submitted a complaint to NCPs (National Contact Points) of Belgium and Luxembourg alleging 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 complaint was dismissed at a preliminary stage without full consideration of the evidence and ignoring the arguments made in his amicus curiae (friend of the court) submission on the legal implications of responsibility for financial complicity in gross human rights violations and the paramount importance of the right to truth in the Armscor case.

The case is well-documented by Hennie van Vuuren in his book “Apartheid, Guns and Money”, first published in 2017.

The UN statement has Bohoslavsky arguing that OECD that States should ensure NCPs operate impartially and without 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 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 member states and to ensure accountability for human rights violations, including in the context of gross human rights violations,” Bohoslavsky said.

“In general, authorities must ensure potential victims have access to effective remedies for alleged human rights violations and businesses act in accordance with their human rights obligations in all operations.

“Ensuring victims exercise their basic right to truth and know what happened during apartheid is essential,” he said.