Eastern Congo

Multi-Million Dollar Criminal Charcoal Syndicate Destroying Swathes of Virunga Park

Date: 
Jun 20, 2016

 

En Français

Groundbreaking Enough Project report exposes “mafia-like” operations of Congolese rebel group; brutal murders, spy networks, complicity of police and officials in illegal, cross-border charcoal trade as old-growth forests are destroyed

A groundbreaking new report by the Enough Project, an atrocity prevention policy group, reveals wide swathes of ancient forest in Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park, are being destroyed by a violent “mafia-like” operation profiting from an illegal, multi-million dollar charcoal business. 

The in-depth report “The Mafia in the ParkA charcoal syndicate is threatening Virunga, Africa's oldest national park,” by Holly Dranginis, Senior Policy Analyst at the Enough Project, documents the rise in the park of a criminal business run by the FDLR, an armed rebel group with ties to the Rwandan genocide. Brutal murders, spy networks, and trans-border trafficking mark the operations, which the report reveals are linked to the complicity of corrupted police, army, and government officials.

Holly Dranginis, report author and Senior Policy Analyst at the Enough Project, said: "Peacebuilding in Congo will be a losing game without addressing the complex business networks operating in the east. Charcoal trafficking is one of many, but it provides significant funding to the FDLR, reflects rampant impunity among state officials involved in criminal activity, and involves mafia-like secrecy and violence reminiscent of the worst Latin American drug cartels."

John Prendergast, Founding Director at the Enough Project, said: "The illegal charcoal trade and its violent kingpins are symptoms of a broader system of theft, corruption, and exploitation that has become systematic in Congo. This trade is not an isolated case, but it is uniquely damaging - not only to one of the world's most biodiverse places, but to human security and the rule of law. Policy interventions must be swift, forward-thinking, and inclusive of those individuals and organizations on the frontlines of the crisis. Better understanding the links between state and non-state actors that propel this trade could help spur more effective interventions to counter wider criminal networks throughout the region."

Ndobo, as the valuable charcoal from Virunga is called, is produced by cutting down and burning old-forest trees in the park. As the report documents, the destruction of these forests has come with devastating consequences for park rangers, local communities and extinction-facing wildlife like gorillas and elephants.

Dranginis added: "The criminal charcoal business in Virunga is leveling whole sections of rare and ancient tropical forest that is critical to climate security and endangered species in this region. Some heroic work is already underway to help protect Virunga. But time is running out to address the charcoal trade, which has operated for years with few successful interventions."

Covering roughly 3,000 square miles in northeastern Congo, Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Virunga’s biodiversity is unmatched by any other protected place in Africa, and includes rare bird species, some of the last mountain gorillas on earth, and endangered forest elephants. The park gained recent attention as the subject of the 2014 Academy Award-nominated documentary produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, “Virunga.”

Selected report highlights:

  • The armed rebel group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) is a kingpin in Africa’s Great Lakes region’s organized crime networks and a continuing threat to human security. For years, the group has helped sustain its activities by exploiting valuable natural resources, including minerals, ivory, fish, and marijuana. But one of the FDLR’s most successful revenue-generating businesses is the illicit charcoal trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s cherished Virunga National Park.
  • Headquartered deep in the remote southwestern sector of Virunga, the illegal charcoal trade is lucrative. Some have estimated it has an annual value of up to $35 million. As one park ranger told Enough, “Armed groups have turned Virunga into their sanctuary.” 
  • “It’s not just FDLR,” describes a source, “It’s police, politicians, and businessmen. It’s a big mafia.”  Some Congolese national police and military commanders are involved in the illegal charcoal trade. They draw significant revenues from profit-sharing with the FDLR, as well as their own production, trafficking, and taxation of illegal charcoal. Some state officials also provide critical protection to the FDLR’s commanders and officers in Virunga.
  • The prevalence of cross-border illegal charcoal trafficking from Virunga: Many have thought illegal charcoal is a purely Congolese affair, but testimonies revealed that Virunga's charcoal is trafficked at least as far as into Uganda and Rwanda as well.
  • The direct use of human rights violations in the regular course of business within illegal charcoal cartels includes reprisal murders, sexual slavery, and extreme forms of forced labor.

Key report recommendations:

  1. Policymakers should view the FDLR not as a strictly military, political, or ideological threat; it is also a profit-seeking organized crime network with state and civilian collaborators. In order to counter Congo’s charcoal mafia, high-ranking FDLR commanders and their partners within the Congolese army should be targeted for sanctions and prosecuted for their roles in the illegal trade. Authorities should improve sustainable defection opportunities for low-ranking soldiers within the FDLR in Virunga, to deprive the illegal trade of essential manpower.
  2. Given widespread dependence on charcoal as a primary source of fuel among households across the region, coercive efforts to end the charcoal trade such as military operations and targeted arrests must be accompanied by alternative fuel initiatives to prevent a sudden deficit of cooking fuel among millions of people in the region.
  3. Protection for defenders: MONUSCO justice and human rights units should increase protective monitoring and support to conservation activists who are targeted for defending Congo’s national parks and investigating environmental crimes, and refer cases of abuse to justice officials for investigation.
  4. The U.S. Congress should pass S.284 - Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which would give the United States authority to impose sanctions on anyone committing abuses against individuals seeking to expose illegal government activity. It should also pass anti-wildlife trafficking legislation, H.R. 2494, which would authorize technical assistance for protecting rangers and improving legal responses to attacks on forest defenders.
  5. The International Criminal Court (ICC) should investigate the FDLR’s top military commander Sylvestre Mudacumura’s command and control over FDLR business operations—especially charcoal cartels—and pursue charges of natural resource pillage if sufficient evidence arises.
  6. Military Interventions: As plans for joint Congolese army-MONUSCO operations advance, Special Envoys Djinnit and Perriello should encourage selective joint operations against FDLR strongholds in Virunga, incorporating MONUSCO’s plan to target charcoal hubs and apprehend key FDLR commanders there.
  7. Demobilization Efforts: As MONUSCO considers reestablishing joint counter-FDLR operations with the Congolese army, it should improve its disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration, and resettlement (DDR/RR) efforts for FDLR combatants in Virunga.

Link to the full report: http://eno.ug/1YwPVcF

For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact:
Greg Hittelman, Director of Communications, +1 310 717 0606gh@enoughproject.org

En Français

About THE ENOUGH PROJECT
An atrocity prevention policy group, the Enough Project seeks to build leverage for peace and justice in Africa by helping to create real consequences for the perpetrators and facilitators of genocide and other mass atrocities. Enough aims to counter rights-abusing armed groups and violent kleptocratic regimes that are fueled by grand corruption, transnational crime and terror, and the pillaging and trafficking of minerals, ivory, diamonds, and other natural resources. Enough conducts field research in conflict zones, develops and advocates for policy recommendations, supports social movements in affected countries, and mobilizes public campaigns. Learn more – and join us – at www.EnoughProject.org

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The Mafia in the Park: A charcoal syndicate is threatening Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park

An illegal charcoal cartel is helping to finance one of the most prominent militias in central Africa and destroying parts of Africa’s oldest national park. Nursing alliances with Congolese army and police units and operating remote trafficking rings in the sanctuaries of Congo’s protected forests, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) is a kingpin in Africa’s Great Lakes region’s organized crime networks and a continuing threat to human security. 

Brad Brooks-Rubin Testifies on U.S. Sanctions Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa

On Wednesday June 8, Enough's Brad Brooks-Rubin, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, convening for a session on “U.S. Sanctions Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

On Wednesday June 8, Enough Project Policy Director, Brad Brooks-Rubin, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, convening for a session on “U.S. Sanctions Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Read the blog on the testimony here and watch the video below. (Brooks-Rubin’s testimony begins just after the 53:17 mark)

Enough Project’s Policy Director Brad Brooks-Rubin Testifies before Congress on U.S. Sanctions Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa

Brooks-Rubin testifying on June 8

On Wednesday June 8, Enough Project Policy Director, Brad Brooks-Rubin, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, convening for a session on “U.S. Sanctions Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa.”  Read More »

Enough’s Brooks-Rubin to Senate: Modern Sanctions Policy Could Disrupt Violent Kleptocracy in Sub-Saharan Africa

Date: 
Jun 8, 2016

In today’s Foreign Relations hearing, former State and Treasury official details current failures, challenges, and a new approach for U.S. sanctions policy to target leaders and facilitators profiting from corruption, atrocities and armed violence

A modernized approach to U.S. sanctions policy would create real consequences for kleptocratic leaders and their international facilitators responsible for mass atrocities and armed violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Enough Project’s Brad Brooks-Rubin testified to the Senate today.

“As the Panama Papers revelations and our the work of our investigative initiative The Sentry investigations show,” Brooks-Rubin stated in his testimony, “the networks involved are using many of the same types of transactions that narco-traffickers, terrorist networks, and corrupt regimes in other parts of the world are using, and against which we have deployed the full array of tools of financial pressure. The violent kleptocracies in Africa all come back to money, and as a result, we have the power to use sanctions and other tools to disrupt them.”

In the Foreign Relations hearing on “U.S. Sanctions Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Brooks-Rubin, Director of Policy at the Enough Project and its new investigative initiative The Sentry, reviewed successes and challenges in current sanctions policy, and presented recommendations that would unleash more effective and targeted financial pressures and enforcement measures for countries caught in the nexus of corruption and violence like Sudan, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A former official at the State Department and the Department of the Treasury, Brooks-Rubin joined Ambassador Princeton Lyman and other distinguished witnesses in a dynamic discussion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, Senator Jeff Flake presiding.

Selected excerpts from official testimony by Brad Brooks-Rubin:

  • “Men, women, and children across sub-Saharan Africa pay a price every day for the unchecked violence and resource theft committed by leaders who do not believe they will face real consequences for their actions.”
  • “Quite simply, we do not approach sanctions with respect to sub-Saharan Africa the way we do other critical national security and foreign policy crises.”
  • “Sanctions can and do have beneficial impact when they are carefully designed and strongly enforced.”  
  • “The simple fact is that we can do so much to modernize our sanctions approach for greater impact. But we need to choose sanctions and other financial pressures that will have the greatest economic impact on the particular networks in the area we’re targeting. We need to look beyond the pressure measures to the broader foreign policy goals and diplomatic engagement that promote good governance. And we must do more to mitigate different types of unintended consequences.”
  • “Regimes from Sudan to Zimbabwe have blamed sanctions for all manner of economic problems, many of which have nothing to do with sanctions at all but instead result from the authoritarian leaders within these regimes and the catastrophic economic decisions that they have made. But when we fail to explain how the sanctions work and show that they can evolve and be nimble over time, rather than become permanent forms of punishment, we give the likes of Bashir and Mugabe easy wins.”
  • “Sanctions have become the non-military tool of choice of the U.S. government to try to deliver those types of consequences across the globe, but sanctions in sub-Saharan Africa have thus far generally failed to achieve the desired impact. This is in large part because we repeatedly use the same types of tools.  We do not target key decision makers and their international facilitators. We rarely follow up or enforce sanctions with further actions. We do not integrate sanctions with other tools designed to promote improved governance. And we do not sufficiently mitigate the negative consequences associated with sanctions.”
  • “The failure has not been with our choice to use sanctions. The failure thus far, which can be readily addressed for the future, is in the limited way in which we have viewed the problems and use sanctions as a tool with sub-Saharan Africa. We have not yet approached these countries with the serious economic lens they deserve, especially before situations become crises. As a result, we have thus far deployed only a limited selection of sanctions measures or approaches in sub-Saharan Africa.”
  • “As of today, at least with respect to addressing conflicts and violent kleptocracies across the continent, sanctions and financial pressure are under-leveraged.”
  • “Too often we underestimate or misunderstand the sources of violence, thinking of them simply as brutal conflicts between rival ethnic groups or strongmen seeking power. At the Enough Project, we analyze five countries—Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic, and Somalia—through the lens of what we call “violent kleptocracy.” We view these violent kleptocracies as systems in which those in power and their networks of facilitators and enablers engage in grand corruption and foment violence. The state is completely hijacked to these purposes.  And there is little to no meaningful governance or public service provision to benefit the people.  Violence and mass corruption are not aberrations of the system; they are the system itself. The particular structure, actors, and specific means of implementing violent kleptocracy may differ between countries, but they all feature these hallmarks, as do many others on the continent.”
  • “In my experience, as a former attorney at the U.S. Treasury Department advising the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and as an officer in the Economic Bureau of the State Department focused on natural resources and conflict, I have worked on many such sanctions efforts related to the continent. I have seen, when a crisis emerges, from Zimbabwe to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to South Sudan to Burundi, we almost immediately look in the sanctions toolbox. But despite the existence of good examples and incredible expertise within the interagency, we too often end up resigned to using the same necessary but insufficient tools: limited numbers of asset freezes, travel bans, and, on occasion, an arms embargo. These tools tend to be long on message and short on financial impact. When these sanctions measures are not flanked well by other efforts, they frequently fail.”
  • “Clear information about which parties are and are not subject to sanctions designations can help mitigate many unintended and unnecessary consequences for sanctions.”
  • “We have not yet brought to sub-Saharan Africa the same sense of urgency to counter threats related to terrorism or drug trafficking.”

Six key recommendations, to deliver an effective and modernized sanctions approach in sub-Saharan Africa:

  1. Ensure that sanctions fit within a broader policy approach with clear policy goals;
  2. Develop better intelligence and expertise on a broader set of potential targets that ensure the actions we take will fulfill the policy goals we are seeking to achieve and disrupt the financial flows involved;
  3. Employ modern sanctions tools beyond targeted designations and travel bans;
  4. Build on the actions we take and have the courage to double down at key junctures rather than easing pressure;
  5. Prioritize civil and criminal enforcement actions under these programs to prevent them from becoming empty gestures; and
  6. Take better steps to keep sanctions temporary and mitigate negative impacts.

Types of critical actions recommended to directly increase the impact of sanctions in sub-Saharan Africa:

  • Use the particular kinds of designation criteria that are designed to deliver financial impact, such as for acts of public corruption and looting of state assets, and go after much high-level targets overall;
  • Keep the pressure on designated individuals and entities at key junctures and enforce the sanctions we put forward;
  • Employ sectoral and even secondary sanctions as needed to act specifically on key economic vulnerabilities and pressure banks to take these crises seriously;
  • Push the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to look beyond drugs and terrorism when acting against money laundering on the continent, something it has never done;
  • Develop public reporting requirements for private-sector actors, particularly investors, in target countries, as used effectively in Burma;
  • Integrate sanctions more holistically with broader policy efforts advancing good governance and responsible business;
  • Issue strong messages against de-risking; and
  • Pass the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and allocate to the Department of the Treasury and other U.S. government agencies a greater share of intelligence and investigative resources that can be dedicated to sub-Saharan Africa.

Complete SFRC testimony of Mr. Brooks-Rubin: http://eno.ug/1RWA8MP

Hearing details and video:  http://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/us-sanctions-policy-in-sub-saharan-africa-060816

Interview availability: Mr. Brooks-Rubin will be available for selected media interviews following the hearing. For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact: Greg Hittelman, Director of Communications, +1 310 717 0606gh@enoughproject.org.

About THE ENOUGH PROJECT
The Enough Project, an atrocity prevention policy group, seeks to build leverage for peace and justice in Africa by helping to create real consequences for the perpetrators and facilitators of genocide and other mass atrocities. Enough aims to counter rights-abusing armed groups and violent kleptocratic regimes that are fueled by grand corruption, transnational crime and terror, and the pillaging and trafficking of minerals, ivory, diamonds, and other natural resources. Enough conducts field research in conflict zones, develops and advocates for policy recommendations, supports social movements in affected countries, and mobilizes public campaigns. Learn more – and join us – at www.EnoughProject.org

About THE SENTRY
The Sentry seeks to dismantle the networks of perpetrators, facilitators, and enablers who fund and profit from Africa’s deadliest conflicts. Our investigations follow the money from conflict zones and into global economic centers, using open source data collection, field research, and state-of-the-art network analysis technology. The Sentry provides information and analysis that engages civil society and media, supports regulatory action and prosecutions, and provides policymakers with the information they require to take effective action. Co-founded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, The Sentry is an initiative of the Enough Project and Not On Our Watch (NOOW), with its implementing partner C4ADS. Learn more at TheSentry.org

Testimony of Brad Brooks-Rubin - U.S. Sanctions Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa

Testimony of Brad Brooks-Rubin, Enough Project Policy Director, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy's hearing on “U.S. Sanctions Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa," given on June 8, 2016.

Enough’s Brooks-Rubin to Testify to Senate on Sub-Saharan Africa, New Approach to Sanctions

Date: 
Jun 6, 2016

This Wednesday, June 8th, Brad Brooks-Rubin, Policy Director at the Enough Project, will testify before the Senate on “U.S. Sanctions Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa,” detailing both successes and significant challenges of current sanctions policy, and presenting recommendations for a modernized approach to sanctions in the region.

A former official at the State Department and the Department of the Treasury, Brooks-Rubin will join other distinguished witnesses before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy.

When: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 2:15 PM

Where: Room 419, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Presiding: Senator Flake

Witnesses:

  • The Honorable Sue E. Eckert
    Senior Fellow, Watson Institute International And Public Affairs, Brown University
     
  • Dr. Todd Moss
    Chief Operating Officer And Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development
     
  • The Honorable Princeton N. Lyman
    Senior Advisor To The President, United States Institute of Peace
     
  • Mr. Brad Brooks-Rubin
    Director of Policy, Enough Project

Testimony livestream and hearing details:  http://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/us-sanctions-policy-in-sub-saharan-africa-060816

Interview availability: Mr. Brooks-Rubin will be available for selected media interviews following the hearing. For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact: Greg Hittelman, Director of Communications, +1 310 717 0606gh@enoughproject.org.

About THE ENOUGH PROJECT
The Enough Project, an atrocity prevention policy group, seeks to build leverage for peace and justice in Africa by helping to create real consequences for the perpetrators and facilitators of genocide and other mass atrocities. Enough aims to counter rights-abusing armed groups and violent kleptocratic regimes that are fueled by grand corruption, transnational crime and terror, and the pillaging and trafficking of minerals, ivory, diamonds, and other natural resources. Enough conducts field research in conflict zones, develops and advocates for policy recommendations, supports social movements in affected countries, and mobilizes public campaigns. Learn more – and join us – at www.EnoughProject.org

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