War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay: The Sentry publishes report on South Sudan’s system of corruption

Big mansions and swimming pools under palm trees, suited young men posing in front of big cars and private jets – these Instagram and Facebook images would not stand out in the abundance of similar ones posted every day, were it not for their context. They were published as part of a two-year investigative report by The Sentry in a press release on September 13th, illustrating the deep entanglement of top South Sudanese military and civilian officials in the large-scale corrupt and kleptocratic system that has been fueling violent conflict and suppressing civil society in the country.

The full report can be downloaded here. Read a two-page overview of the main findings here.

Although not at all unusual and infrequent, the details and recency of the report are once again a fresh reminder of the fueling power of corruption and nepotism in the context of protracted, extremely violent civil wars. Family members as young as 12 years old reportedly hold shares in companies procuring in oiling, mining, aviation, insurance, telecommunications, and several other industries. “Occupation: Son of President” can be read on the images of passport copies of two of President Kiir’s sons. Google Earth images support the documented evidence that properties were acquired inside and outside the country, such as President Kiir’s Luri ranch, which, among other uses, ostensibly provided a training ground for members of his militia.

While Sudanese law prohibits nepotism and corruption, the sheer amount of money and power circulating within these high ranks is naturally a great incentive for all involved stakeholders: lawyers signing away and thereby facilitating South Sudanese wealth acquisition; national and international banks giving way to large transactions without ensuring their duty to follow through with due diligence; international businessmen, war profiteers, defense firms, and arms dealers striking deals with presidents and generals.

The report also proposes a combination of measures to counter this system most effectively, taking into consideration past actions. It details the ways in which smarter sanctions should include “anchor targets”; members of an illicit network whose sanctioning would make the network increasingly vulnerable and less strong. It outlines the most effective ways for the U.S. government to get involved in the prevention of money laundering and encourage South Sudanese and international banks to comply. With the knowledge of corruption being a major contributor to prolonged violence, anti-corruption narratives should be at the forefront of any international initiatives in South Sudan, from private business ventures to humanitarian assistance. And, although probably one of the toughest measures to implement, it is also likely one of the most important ones: The strengthening and protection of civil society to ensure sustainable transparency and prevention of nepotism, kleptocracy, corruption, and ultimately, the financing of violence and conflict.

How fruitful the policy suggestions from The Sentry’s report remains to be seen, in particular in light of issues such as dealing with sovereignty. As the report underlines, however, such concessions have to be demanded.

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Photo credit: The Sentry

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Photo credit: The Sentry

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Photo credit: The Sentry

Pauline Lendrich

Pauline is a Master’s student at King’s College London. She is interested and currently involved in migration and refugee issues in Europe, primarily France and England. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations from Maastricht University. Past experience includes Reporters Without Borders in Germany, and the European Journalism Centre in the Netherlands.

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