War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay.
Over the past two decades, the area stretching from northeast to central Africa has been the deadliest war zone in the world. Tens of millions of people have perished or been displaced as a result of violent kleptocracy — a lethal nexus of extreme violence, grand corruption, and competition over vast natural resources.
Countries such as Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and the Central African Republic are often referred to as failed states, but in reality, they are hijacked states. Political, military, and commercial elites in these countries – often collaborating with neighbors – control and run the state and its institutions, use their power to transfer a large fraction of society’s resources to enrich themselves, and use brute force and organized criminal activity to remain in power. In these states, high-level corruption linked to violence is not some occasional exception to the rule; it constitutes the actual system of governance.
Responsibility for mass atrocities in this region of Africa is not limited to those perpetrating or orchestrating violence. Networks of facilitators extend from the conflict zones into global economic centers and use legitimate systems of international finance, trade, and transportation to fund and equip warring parties, as well as launder the spoils of war, often in pursuit of their own profits. The points of convergence, where illicit schemes rely on legitimate global financial and transport infrastructure, at times represent the most profitable links in the conflict value chain, and also those most vulnerable to disruption, and thus a policy response.
Following the money that funds atrocities and crimes against humanity
In order to track and analyze how armed conflict and atrocities are financed, sustained, and monetized, The Sentry uses open source data collection, field research, and state-of-the-art network data analysis technology, and works in partnership with local and international civil society organizations, journalists, and governments.
The Sentry’s investigations produce analytical reporting that engages civil society and media, supports regulatory action and prosecutions, and provides policymakers with the information they require to take effective action.
The Sentry examines the techniques used to benefit financially from armed conflict and atrocities, including:
- Convergence of licit and illicit systems—illicit actors conceal their operations and launder their profits through globalized systems of finance, trade, and transportation.
- Regulatory and sanctions evasion—illicit actors find ways to adapt to and avoid international laws, sanctions, and regulations.
- Disguised beneficial ownership—illicit actors employ increasingly sophisticated methods to disguise their true identities to avoid detection and exposure.
- Money and commodities laundering – illicit actors launder money and commodities such as gold to disguise their criminal origins and move it through legitimate financial systems undetected.
- Extractive industries and natural resource trafficking—illicit actors extract, tax, and sell natural resources to fund and sustain their operations.
- Corruption and illicit financial flows—illicit actors compete violently to capture state resources and divert funds for their own personal enrichment and to finance their armed campaigns.
- Security sector fraud and abuse—illicit actors manage state and military expenditures to fund off-budget activities with little-to-no transparency or accountability.
- Elite financing and offshored assets—illicit actors abuse their power and position to accumulate significant wealth that is then laundered through offshore jurisdictions to evade detection.
- War crimes and crimes against humanity – illicit actors orchestrate crimes against civilian populations in natural resource-rich territories — including enslavement, forced labor, and arbitrary arrests — as a key strategy for taking control over wealth and silencing dissent.
The Sentry’s ultimate objective is to alter the incentive structure of those benefiting financially and politically from conflict and mass atrocities. This will lend greater support to broader accountability measures as well as provide leverage to peace and human rights initiatives aimed at ending Africa’s deadliest conflicts.