3-15-2012By Taimur Rabbani
Crimes Against Humanity Program
Last fall, Human Rights First covered the trial of Viktor Bout, charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and provide material support for foreign terrorist organizations. As Bout, who faces 25 to life in prison, awaits sentencing in U.S. Federal Court, we reflect on the lessons of the trial of one of the most notorious gun-runners, sanctions-busters, and atrocity-enablers in history.
The jury did not hear about the full scope of Bout’s dealings, which included undermining international sanctions by funneling arms into conflict situations and worsening humanitarian crises. By 2005, Bout had enabled atrocities in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.
As detailed in the New Yorker earlier this month, Bout—the model for Nicolas Cage’s character in “Lord of War”—operated with impunity and seemingly with protection from Russia. Bout used his extensive business network to secure fraudulent end-user certificates and avoid scrutiny as he shipped weapons to sanctioned destinations. He received warnings from well-connected “friends” before banks could freeze his accounts. A member of Bout’s network boasted that evading U.S. Treasury sanctions was “easier than buying a hamburger at McDonalds.”
Bout is out of the picture, but the illicit arms industry remains lucrative, sophisticated, and expansive.
The U.S. government contracted with Viktor Bout in Iraq despite his connection to atrocities. Now, it’s contracting with Rosoboronexport, a Russian state-run weapons exporter, despite the fact that the Syrian government is using the company’s weapons to brutalize civilians. The Department of Defense should void or suspend this contract, and the U.S. government should target with tough sanctions other individuals, companies, and governments that enable grave human rights abuses.