Note: This op-ed originally appeared in the Guardian and was written by The Sentry’s co-founders, George Clooney and John Prendergast.
“Where are George Clooney and co now that Sudan needs them?” asked an Opinion article in the Guardian this week. The oped assumed that a lack of public statements by us and others with a long association with Darfur, Sudan more broadly, and South Sudan meant that we were doing nothing in response to the Sudanese regime’s brutal crackdown of escalating protests throughout the country.
This is indeed a critical moment in Sudan’s fraught history. The people of Sudan are rightly leading demands for change, and we believe our role is to support the cause of human rights for Sudanese people by using strategic and tactical advocacy in Europe, the US, and Africa focused on key points of leverage. As the demonstrations have unfolded this past month, our entire team has continuously engaged officials in governments around the world to take measures to hold the Bashir regime accountable. Much of this advocacy is not done in public.
To support Sudanese efforts for change we have been working assiduously behind the scenes to suspend the US government’s process for removing president Omar al-Bashir’s regime from its state sponsors of terrorism list. Such a move would lift remaining sanctions and make the Sudanese government eligible for massive debt relief; one of the few points of leverage the international community has over the Khartoum regime.
We have been engaging the Trump administration and the US Congress to suspend the process of normalising relations with Bashir’s regime, whose human rights abuses go far beyond killing protesters. And we have dispatched staff to to engage governments in Europe and to the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa.
Over more than a dozen years, we’ve invested millions of dollars into efforts to address Sudan’s – and South Sudan’s – crises. We launched the Satellite Sentinel Project to monitor the regime’s mass atrocities using satellite technology and teams of imagery analysts. We were able to uncover evidence of mass graves, Chinese-made rockets, hidden troop movements in violations of ceasefires, and many other destabilising actions of the Sudan regime.
But over time, we realised that naming and shaming the regime and exposing its complicity in mass atrocities were not having sufficient impact on the policies of governments in Europe, America and Africa, so we decided on a new approach.
We assessed the most significant point of vulnerability of this unshamable regime to be all the money it has been stealing from its people and squirrelling out of the country into hidden accounts, real estate, and shell companies, funnelling the rest of the funds into the machinery of state repression now responsible for killing and arresting protesters. So we decided to go after the regime’s massive corruption and illicit financial flows by creating an organisation called The Sentry, aimed at making it harder for them to loot the natural resources of the country to line their pockets and finance their repression.
Our financial forensic investigative team is gathering evidence and we hope to have our first reports on Sudan in the coming year, just as we have already done in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. The Sentry has also undertaken an assessment of Sudan’s anti-money laundering framework, and our report coming in the near future will show that the system is barely sufficient to meet international standards on paper, and far more concerning in practice. Bashir’s theft has taken longer to crack because his regime has been more sophisticated in obscuring its illicit money trails, including through manipulating and abusing their own flawed systems.
It is our belief that exposing the Bashir regime’s massive theft of resources from its people, and the complicity of the international financial system in this effort, constitutes the most critical way in which we can support Sudanese activists on the ground as they lead the campaign for justice and human rights. Much of our work in this regard is not public. We provide evidence directly to global banks to help them guard against money laundering through the international financial system, and we provide dossiers to governments, including to the US Treasury recently to support sanctions under the new Global Magnitsky authorities.
This work has gone hand-in-hand with our ongoing efforts in South Sudan. We’ve worked to expose the vast corruption in the Juba regime, and to successfully advocate for network sanctions and anti-money laundering measures imposed against key regime officials and financiers. The networks of looting are transnational, so many of the vultures feeding on South Sudan are also doing the same to Sudan. There is much money to be made in war, and the deliberate absence of the rule of law has supported the efforts of the thieves of state in Khartoum and Juba.
We’ve also supported the restoration of coffee farming in areas of South Sudan to help create incomes for the hard-working people there. Unfortunately, the conflict has overwhelmed these efforts, but we will continue to look for opportunities.
We certainly support the work of journalists to ask questions about the activities of those working to address the world’s problems. But the Guardian and other publications with a history of important investigative journalism should be asking questions of the UK and other European governments, which continue to pursue favourable trade and investment opportunities with Sudan, and which are providing funds to the Sudan regime to contain migration, not fully understanding that those funds are going to the most violent paramilitary forces associated with the regime, ironically causing further out-migration from Sudan to Europe.
And journalists should be asking the US government how it can consider normalising relations with a government that is killing protesters, looting the country’s natural resources, failing to combat money laundering through its own system, maintaining ties with extremists inside and outside Sudan, and undermining basic religious freedoms.
This is a catalytic moment for the people of Sudan. We and our team – which includes Sudanese experts – are working in every way we can to support the aspirations of the people of Sudan for a peaceful transition from three decades of violent, kleptocratic dictatorship.
Click here to read the op-ed in the Guardian.