Making War Crimes Unprofitable
Making War Crimes Unprofitable
By Erick Rodriguez
Although the notion of government forces and armed ethnic factions raiding civilian villages may seem foreign, it is the harsh reality of daily life in South Sudan. In response to this humanitarian crisis, George Clooney and co-founder John Prendergast have launched an initiative through the group known as The Sentry, a team of analysts, regional experts, and financial forensic investigators that works to actively disrupt the corrupt networks that fund and profit from genocide or other mass atrocities in Africa. In a press conference for The Sentry, Clooney began by summarizing the history of South Sudan. He explained that, “In 2011, South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence from the government of Sudan, and its President, Omar-Al Bashir, a man who is charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court.” When the UN recognized South Sudan, the international community hoped that the partition would bring an end to the years of violence that pervaded the region while ethnic factions fought for control.
Clooney asserted the harsh realities of contemporary South Sudan. “Unfortunately, the past five years, South Sudan’s leaders have engaged in much of the same behavior, including mass atrocities on its citizens, starvation, and rape. All while plundering the state’s resources, and enriching themselves and their families.” In a bold revelation, Clooney declared that he was involved in, “a two-year undercover investigation by The Sentry, using forensic accountants and experts formerly from the FBI and Treasury department.” As the ongoing famine continues to deprive citizens of the necessary resources to feed themselves, Clooney proclaimed that the “irrefutable evidence” gathered by The Sentry will provide critical insight into the cause of the problem and, “provide solutions to help end this criminal behavior to protect innocent civilians.”
Throughout the process of the secession of South Sudan, the United States was heavily involved in ensuring that the safety of citizens was prioritized. “Since 2014, the U.S. has given $1.5 billion in aid to South Sudan,” acknowledged Clooney, imploring that “the U.S. and the world recognizes that South Sudan cannot become a failed state, not only because of the humanitarian crisis, but because we have seen the influences that can take hold in a failed state.” With mindful forethought, Clooney weighed the policy implications of inaction, concluding that “we can either take action now, or we can spend the next decade picking up the mess.”
In a foreword to The Sentry’s report, the renowned actor and his co-founder advise that the key to eliminating the famine is to hold accountable “the system of international banks, businesses, arms brokers, real estate firms, and lawyers who…facilitate the violent kleptocracy that South Sudan has become,” by halting the liquidation of stolen assets and the subsequent use of these assets internationally.
The UN reports that over 3.5 million South Sudanese have been displaced by government military raids that seize the fruits of arduous agricultural labor. “War has been hell for South Sudan’s people, but it has been very lucrative for the country’s leaders and their collaborators in the international financial system,” professed John Prendergast, speaking for The Sentry. Prendergast formed the partnership with Clooney in 2015 with the collaboration of Clooney’s human rights advocacy non-profit called Not On Our Watch, a non-profit against mass atrocities called the Enough Project, and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a data-analysis non-profit organization.
Prendergast synopsized the dire issues plaguing South Sudan, namely that its leaders “have learned that rape, child soldier recruitment, and mass killings are not enough to trigger any meaningful accountability measures.” As to the reason for the continued human rights violations, he attested that “what’s missing is international leverage,” and proposes creating such leverage by using “precision-guided financial policy tools normally reserved for countering terrorism, fighting organized crime, for halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons.” Prendergast further suggests the use of “readily available anti-laundering measures…with targeted sanctions focused on the top officials in the regime and their international facilitators.” Simply put, The Sentry infers from its evidence that the keys to stopping the famine in South Sudan are government-enacted sanctions on the state’s top officials, enforcing penalties on banks that enable money laundering by the designated officials, and sanctions on the financial institutions that facilitate their acquisition of assets. In light of the evidence uncovered by The Sentry, George Clooney reinforces the importance of retributive justice, conclusively emphasizing that “real leverage for peace and human rights will come when the people who benefit from war will pay a price for the damage they cause.”