Today, the Enough Project released its latest policy brief by Founding Director John Prendergast, The Paper Tiger in South Sudan: Threats without Consequences for Atrocities and Kleptocracy.
Based on Prendergast’s testimony before a hearing in Congress last month, the brief outlines how the primary root cause for the atrocities and instability that mark South Sudan’s short history is that its government quickly morphed into a violent kleptocracy. Grand corruption and extreme violence are not aberrations; they are the system – and using extreme violence to keep control of power and the related financial rewards is viewed as imperative within that system.
Unless this violent kleptocratic system is addressed head-on by policymakers internationally, Prendergast argues, the billions of dollars spent annually for peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, and the ongoing diplomacy and assistance supporting the peace deal there will simply be treating symptoms, not addressing the primary root cause of cyclical conflict.
For South Sudan’s citizens, the results of this war have been disastrous. According to USAID, more than two million South Sudanese people have been displaced internally or are refugees. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently warned of “[a]larming reports of starvation, acute malnutrition and catastrophe levels of food insecurity.” This violent conflict additionally has a disproportionate impact on women and girls.
“The struggle for political power and control of natural resources revenue, corruption and nepotism appear to be the key factors underlining the break out of the crisis that ravaged the entire country.” – The 2015 report by the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan
The surest way for the United States and the broader international community to create real consequences and build critically-needed leverage for peace is by hitting the leaders of rival kleptocratic factions in South Sudan where it hurts the most: their wallets. This requires a hard-target transnational search for dirty money and corrupt deals made by government officials, rebel leaders, arms traffickers, complicit bankers, and mining and oil company representatives.
At a U.S. congressional hearing on April 27, 2016, Luka Biong Deng emphasized the importance of “making the costs of non-implementation more than the costs of implementation.” He added, “The parties should be made to believe that by not implementing this peace agreement, they will pay the price.”
The brief details numerous recommendations targeting the U.S. Government, including items such as:
- Supporting the South Sudanese government institutions that are designed to hold those in power accountable.
- Building a coalition of countries prepared to impose targeted sanctions on key high-ranking officials on both sides of the conflict who are undermining peace.
- Strengthening the current sanctions regime for South Sudan by amending to include additional criteria that would allow the administration to place sanctions on South Sudanese officials engaging in public corruption or actions that stifle free speech or democracy through repression of civil society and media.
- Enforcing robustly current and any future sanctions.
- Issuing an advisory to all U.S. financial institutions regarding the risk of possible money laundering activity related to the laundering of the proceeds of corruption from South Sudan.
- Engaging in direct and coordinated senior-level diplomatic outreach to key banks engaged in moving corrupt South Sudanese assets.
- Ensuring that the government agencies responsible for administering and enforcing targeted sanctions have sufficient resources and staff directed to pursue these cases.
- Passing the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.