11-1-2011By Crimes Against Humanity
Human Rights First
Closing arguments in the Viktor Bout trial began Monday morning in New York, bringing to an end a rare glimpse into the secret world of arms trafficking. Human Rights First has covered the entirety of the trial, documenting the proceedings against the alleged arms trafficker as they happened and highlighting Bout’s connections to some of the world’s worst atrocities.
Most notably, the trial has illuminated some of the complex and extensive networks and activities that enable mass atrocities across the world. Through six witnesses presented by the prosecution, including undercover operatives, former Bout associates, and a computer forensics expert, observers got a window into a vast network of activities that may have worsened widespread human rights violations in a host of countries, including Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and elsewhere. Bout himself has been connected to other atrocities, many of which were not raised during the proceedings.
The witness testimony highlights some ways that third-party enablers can help perpetrators of atrocities commit their brutal crimes and turn ongoing conflicts increasingly violent. According to recordings made by Carlos, an undercover operative working under the direction of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who met with Bout in Thailand to discuss an arms sale to what Bout allegedly believed to be the FARC, Bout discussed helping the FARC launder money, suggesting that the FARC “work through” Russia, Venezuela, or Belarus, and offered assistance for a 40% commission. According to Bout, Belarus would be instrumental because “it also has problems with” the United States.
Bout purportedly was capable of bribing government officials in Nicaragua and elsewhere to procure end-user certificates for weapons in order to minimize international scrutiny for an arms deal. According to tapes, Bout could also bribe officials in Egypt and other countries to receive already existing papers to procure arms. He explained that many valid arms contracts aren’t fully executed, and that one only needs to pay off an official and then travel with the existing paperwork to the arms manufacturing company or country to receive military equipment.
Another witness, Andrew Smulian, an associate of Bout who pled guilty in 2008 to the same charges Bout faces, claimed that he met with Bout in Moscow in January 2008 to discuss the arms deal. According to Smulian, Bout allegedly called an arms manufacturer during a meeting and within a few minutes confirmed the immediate availability of 100 guided surface-to-air missiles. Smulian testified that the missiles were to originate from KAS, a Bulgarian company whose leaders Bout and Smulian met at an expo in Dubai in 1998. He further testified that Bout’s preferred way to provide these weapons to the FARC was to use combat parachutes to airdrop them into Colombia on a 15 minute diversion from an existing cargo flight between Nicaragua and Guyana.
James Roberts, who flew for Viktor Bout’s aviation company in Africa in the late 1990s, also testified about the reach of Bout’s network. According to Roberts, Bout’s company operated in the Central African Republic and in an undisclosed “east African country,” almost certainly Rwanda. Roberts himself transported alcohol for UNITA rebels in Angola and stated that he witnessed Bout’s company transporting military personnel, government officials, and weaponry including rocket-propelled grenades across the Great Lakes region of Africa in the late 1990s.
The trial shows how extensive enablers’ networks are and some of the myriad ways enablers of atrocities contribute to the worst crimes of our time. Targeting these enablers and the considerable networks and supply chains that fuel atrocities would help end or mitigate these crimes and should be integrated into U.S. efforts to tackle widespread human rights abuses.
For a background on Third-Party Enablers, and a list of recommendations, see our Briefing Paper: Disrupting the Supply Chain for Mass Atrocities.
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