Gun Runner Study Shows Flaws in U.S., International Laws
Washington, D.C. – An investigative report released today at the United Nations Headquarters reveals how close former associates of notorious international gunrunner Viktor Bout recently came to completing plans to set up another illicit arms trafficking network. According to the report authored by Human Rights First partner Kathi Lynn Austin of the Conflict Awareness Project, Bout’s associates took advantage of the uneven regulatory frameworks around conventional weapons trade and went to great lengths to circumvent U.S. and foreign laws. “Today’s report is revealing of just how far some weapons traffickers are willing to go to circumvent the law,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “Countries need a more coordinated approach to preventing illicit arms trafficking if they want to close the gaps exploited by intermediaries who profit from funneling weapons into regions with violent conflicts.” Both orchestrators at the head of the illicit arms trafficking network highlighted in today’s report are already under U.S. watch and subject to U.S. sanctions. Sergei Denisenko appears on the U.S. Special Designated Nationals (SDN) List enforced by the Department of Treasury, a designation that blocks his U.S assets and largely prohibits U.S. dealings with him. Andrei Kosolapov is reportedly on the U.S. Visas Viper list, a watch list used internationally by the State Department to track known or suspected terrorists. Both men were originally flagged for their associations with Bout, whose transportation networks enabled the flow of arms into African conflict zones, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Sudan. Earlier this year, Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy after a U.S. government run sting operation found him guilty of selling weapons to the Columbian FARC for use against U.S. targets. Today’s report reveals that even with Bout behind bars and U.S. laws in place to prohibit Denisenko and Kosolapov from entering the United States and doing business with U.S. entities, both men sufficiently managed to circumvent U.S. sanctions. Their plan was to lease a U.S. registered plane that could be used for arms transfers while flying under a Mauritian aviation certificate. “Countries that may have more robust regulations, like the United States, are still unable to singlehandedly prevent illicit arms trafficking operations,” noted Hameed. “To plug the holes that exist in international law, the U.S. delegation to the UN Arms Trade Treaty negotiations must ensure that treaty language includes comprehensive regulations on brokers and intermediaries who operate within the arms trade.” Hameed notes that among the most disturbing facts in today’s report is that the methods used by illicit arms trafficking networks often appear legitimate on the surface and are, in turn, adapted to overcome or circumvent sanctions. This highlights the need for an examination of gaps in implementation and a more comprehensive enforcement of U.S. sanctions regimes. For example in this case, the U.S. Department of State, which oversees the visa viper program could have done more through its embassy in Mauritius to share information with Mauritian authorities about these blocked persons. Looking ahead, the U.S. Department of Treasury, which enforces sanctions against persons on the SDN list, should do more to ensure that U.S. banks and foreign institutions with U.S. dollar accounts abide by due diligence guidelines of SDN sanctions. In addition, both the United States and Mauritius are members of INTERPOL, a mechanism created to facilitate international law enforcement cooperation. Through INTERPOL the U.S. Department of Justice should actively share and receive information about the activities of U.S. sanctioned persons to facilitate more proactive tracking and disruption of atrocity enablers. “While atrocities committed in places like the DRC, Sudan and Syria tend to be addressed by policy makers on a case by case basis, there are transnational supply chains operating and enabling other atrocities around the globe,” concluded Hameed. “These enablers range from manufacturers, to brokers to transporters. Some are legitimate entities and others are more like the shadowy figures unearthed by this investigation. If governments want to prevent future atrocities, they have to find better ways to dismantle these transnational criminal networks by tracking, disrupting and holding accountable those actors who enable these crimes.“ Building on today’s findings, Human Rights First plans to work with interagency representatives to the Atrocity Prevention Board to offer recommendations on ways the U.S government can systematically integrate the tracking and disruption of atrocity enablers into its policy tool box. These recommendations will include due diligence and sanctions enforcement measures to better ensure that U.S entities do not become complicit in the activities of atrocity enablers.