Recently there has been a civil court case that has been filed against the international banking group, BNP Paribas, by the McKool Smith Firm representing Sudanese refugees in America. (You may have heard of this French bank from our IRD Religious Liberty Program Director Faith McDonnell. Click here and here for more information.) The refugees are demanding compensation of about $1 million per person for the human rights violation.
The history of the civil lawsuit can be dated back to when BNP Paribas pleaded guilty to violating sanctions in 2015. BNP Paribas paid $8.9 billion in fine in 2015 for providing funds to the Khartoum regime, the Islamist government of Sudan. There was a proposal by the Sudan Compensation Community to create a fund so that the fine would benefit the Sudanese victims. In fact, the Sudan Compensation Community said that the Department of Justice “published notice that $3.8336 was available for compensation to people who were directly and proximately harmed by BNPP’s sanctions violations.” They argued that the funds should first be used to “address the most critical emergency humanitarian aid shortfalls for Sudanese refugees.” Then they advocated that it should be used to reconstruct the damages that were done to the Sudanese communities. (Click here for the complete list of demands.) The fund was never created, however, the Sudanese refugees never received compensation. In fact, the money went to the U.S. Government treasury. (Here is Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail’s appeal to the Congress to return the money to the Sudanese.)
The BNP Paribas company was convicted of conspiring with the Sudanese government and violating many human rights in Sudan. BNP Paribas specifically helped the Sudanese government to exploit the oil revenues. With the money that BNP Paribas misused, the government was able to use the funds to manufacture weapons, helicopters, and planes, to fund jihadi militia and violate the human rights of its citizens. Sudanese suffered rape, mass murder, and incredible physical pain, as well as displacement from their homes. Although the victims met all of the requirements for compensation with all of these horrifying crimes, justice has not been served. The refugees never received compensation. In addition, BNP Paribas refuses to pay compensation. There are troubles as the BNP Paribas is fighting back and saying that they do not have to pay the Sudanese American refugees as the crimes did not happen on American soil.
In a previous court case, the Presbyterian Church of Sudan filed a lawsuit against the Canadian oil company Talisman Energy under the allegations that the Talisman Energy violated multiple human rights by exploring potential oil reserves in collaboration with the Sudanese government to kill Christians and others who opposed the regime. The case was filed using the Alien Tort Statute. The statute allows U.S. to have jurisdiction over civil lawsuits filed by foreigners that only involve human rights issues that affect U.S. parties. However, the court dismissed Presbyterian Church of Sudan vs. Talisman Energy.
The current case differs in that the lawyers are not using the Alien Tort Statute as it repeatedly failed. Instead, it is based on New York law. McKool Smith Law Firm first filed the lawsuit, and Kathryn Lee Crawford Boyd, Thomas B. Watson, and Matthew P. Rand are on the forefront of making sure that the Sudanese American refugees get their fair share of compensation. They are arguing on the basis that BNP Paribas broke the law of abusing and violated human rights while the refugees in Sudan.
BNP Paribas is arguing that the case must dismiss as the actual crime was done outside the United States against the Sudanese citizens and not American citizens. While this is an arguable question, it is indeed true that America has intervened in many other countries because their citizens’ human rights have been compromised and many are convinced that the jurisdiction should be common law. The case is currently is on hold as the judge reviews it. You can read all of the essential court documents here.
When asked how the church plays a role and how the church can help, Ms. Boyd offers us some practical goals. She explains that churches have helped the case significantly because they gave the lawyers access to the Sudanese community and became a bridge between the victims and the lawyers. Furthermore, the lawyers ask the churches to:
- Continue to pray for the case and the Sudanese refugees that they will be able to proceed with the case and that they will be able to gain justice.
- To bring awareness and spread the news about the situation.
- Help the lawyers gain access to the Sudanese refugees that they can further help them.
I pray that the Sudanese American refugees gain the compensation and justice that they deserve.