To stop mass atrocities, follow the money | criminality
Mass atrocities don’t come cheap.
A common misconception is that everything must fail for international crimes – war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – to be perpetrated against civilian populations. On the contrary, many things must line up for governments, terrorists or rebel groups to commit atrocities. They need persuasive politics, organized institutions ready to follow orders and buy-in from major interest groups. And they need the money – a lot.
After another year in which the demand for accountability for international crimes far outstripped the supply of justice, July 17 – International Day of Justice – is a useful time to highlight the importance of tackling funding perpetrators of atrocities. One way to do this is to link the prosecution of mass atrocities to the lucrative transnational crimes that fuel them.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to think of a conflict since the end of World War II where mass atrocities were perpetrated but in which transnational organized crime played no role. The commission of transnational crimes, such as human and drug trafficking, money laundering, illicit trade in petroleum, ivory and antiques, etc., has powerfully contributed to filling the coffers of criminals war, terrorists and genocidaires.
Consider a few examples. The infamous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group operating in parts of central Africa, has committed a litany of war crimes and crimes against humanity since its war with the Ugandan government erupted in the midst of 1980s. In recent years, the LRA has been able to survive and continue its child abductions to fight within its ranks because of its illegal ivory trafficking across Sudan.
In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been charged with all international crimes committed, including the attempted genocide of the Yazidi population. ISIL’s economy depended on transnational organized crime, including the illicit sale of oil through Turkey and in international markets. While its destruction of culturally protected sites has received significant media attention, ISIL has also kept some antiques in order to sell them, illegally, on black markets. These transnational crimes have allowed ISIL to survive – and terrorize civilians – for as long as it has.
On rare occasions, the link between illicit and lucrative crimes and mass atrocities has captured the attention of the courts. In 2012, former Liberian President Charles Taylor was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison for complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone. At the heart of his condemnation was Taylor’s involvement in the trade in “conflict diamonds” to fund rebel groups that terrorized Sierra Leonean civilians.
More recently, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office have been established, and many hope this will shed new light on whether the Kosovo Liberation Army has engaged in trafficking in human organs. after its war and alleged anti-ethnic cleansing campaign against Serbia in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
All of these examples illustrate that the same perpetrators who commit mass atrocities are also and simultaneously implicated in the commission of lucrative transnational organized crimes. Given the complexity and difficulty of accountability for mass atrocities, as well as the freezing pace of international criminal justice, it is high time to consider putting more emphasis on investigating perpetrators. international crimes for their involvement in illicit trade networks.
More can and must be done to destabilize the funding of perpetrators of mass atrocities. This would require a concerted effort on the part of state institutions as well as international organizations, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), to link investigations into transnational organized crimes and international crimes. There is some progress on this front, with countries like Uganda establishing special divisions capable of investigating both sets of crimes. Others have promised to do the same. Former ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has raised the specter of an investigation into human trafficking in Libya as a possible crime against humanity, although there is no evidence to date. concrete action in this area.
One promising avenue would be to ensure that investigators who investigate mass atrocities are better equipped to collect evidence of transnational organized crime. When they are unable to use this evidence to build their own cases, they should share it with states and institutions that are in a position to do so and that may thus disrupt illicit networks. States should also explore the possibility of establishing a permanent international tribunal with a specific mandate to combat transnational organized crimes, perhaps in conjunction with efforts to establish an international anti-corruption court.
Every year, transnational organized crime generates hundreds of billions of dollars. But it’s not just costly in dollars and cents. It costs human lives. Combating these illicit crimes could thus help protect civilians from violence and atrocities. He already did.
Few gangsters were as well known at the turn of the 20th century as Al Capone. Widely suspected of having been responsible for numerous murders and violent crimes, Capone was ultimately convicted of tax evasion. Incarceration of “Scarface” for a crime for which he could more easily be prosecuted meant that he was off the streets and no longer presented a direct danger to society. In other words, putting Capone behind bars for tax evasion prevented him from committing violent crimes in the future.
It is also the promise to link the investigation and prosecution of mass atrocities with transnational organized crimes. Disrupting illicit trade networks and prosecuting the perpetrators of transnational crimes would neutralize the ability of genocidal regimes, terrorist organizations and rebel groups to finance their violence, thereby deterring atrocities.
Follow the money and maybe atrocity perpetrators around the world will meet their equal.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.