New Paper: This Mass Atrocity was Brought to You by the Ivory Trade: Linking Transnational and International Crimes

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials display recovered elephants tusks and illegally held firearms (Photo: Reuters)

Yesterday, I posted remarks that I gave to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Libya with respect to the nexus between international crimes and transnational organized crimes.  My talk was based on ongoing research I have been doing on the subject and a paper that I have been writing for (admittedly) far too long, entitled: This Mass Atrocity was Brought to You by the Ivory Trade: Linking Transnational and International Crimes. It has been in draft form for longer than I’d like to admit, but I hope to finish it in the near future. If you have any comments, please do share – they will help cross the finish line!

The full draft is available here. For those unable to access a copy, feel free to reach out and I will send an PDF version. Here is the gist of the article and its argument:

A supermodel. A Hollywood actress. A Nobel Peace Prize winner. A President-turned-warlord. This is not the beginning of some crude joke or the cast of a TMZ rumour. Rather, it is a list of characters who found themselves together at a party in 1997 which, almost fifteen years after it took place, was examined in what became perhaps the single most dramatic event in the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). According to Mia Farrow (the Hollywood actress), Naomi Campbell (the supermodel) had accepted ‘blood diamonds’ from Taylor (the President-turned-warlord) during a party hosted by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela.

Politically, it is possible that the cash-strapped SCSL sought the star-power of such characters in order to raise its profile and receive the funding it needed to conclude proceedings. In the courtroom, however, the prosecution used the testimony of Campbell to demonstrate that Taylor had used illegally traded diamonds to fuel the civil war in Sierra Leone. According to Owen Bowcott: “The diamond donation goes to the heart of the main allegation against Taylor: that he organised and sustained the Revolutionary United Front’s (RUF) invasion of Sierra Leone, trading weapons shipments for looted diamonds.” Still, among the eleven charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and “other serious violations of international humanitarian law” levied against Taylor, none pertained to the Liberian President’s alleged and direct involvement in transnational and organized crimes. While the illicit trade of diamonds to fuel civil war in Sierra Leone was a key element of the prosecution’s narrative and Taylor was eventually sentenced to fifty years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone, little was achieved in terms of establishing clear links between the perpetration of transnational and organized crimes to international core crimes.

Indeed, such links have been, and continue to be, generally under-examined both in legal practice as well as scholarship on criminal behaviour in war. This paper seeks to fill this lacuna by examining the linkages between these two sets of crimes, exploring a number of conflicts where both crime bases have been concomitantly perpetrated in what will be referred to as a international-transnational crime complex. The paper critically assesses possible means of effectively linking the investigation and prosecution of such crime complexes…

… The paper is organized into four sections. Eschewing a legal analysis, the paper first explores theoretical and analytical contributions from conflict and peace studies. This is done in order to demonstrate how contemporary thinking on the nature of violent political conflict since the end of the Cold War has long identified the propensity of transnational and organized crimes being perpetrated concomitantly with international crimes. This section also explores the question of which crime-type comes first. In other words, do transnational and organized crimes precede or succeed international crimes — or vice versa? It is argued that this is not, in fact, a helpful question. Rather than theorizing the perpetration of these two sets of crimes in a linear fashion, it is more useful to study their interaction within an international-transnational crime complex.

In the second section, the paper examines four conflicts in which the perpetration of both sets of crimes have been a prominent expression of political violence: ethnic cleansing and organ trafficking in the war in Kosovo; the diamond trade and war crimes in the civil war in Sierra Leone; ivory poaching and the war between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Government of Uganda in central and eastern Africa; and the trade in oil in the war against ISIS, otherwise referred to as the Islamic State or Daesh. These cases were chosen in order to demonstrate the varied manner in which transnational and organized crimes and international crimes interact. These cases also demonstrate that these crime bases are linked irrespective of geographic location or the type of actors involved — governments, rebel groups, paramilitaries, terrorist organizations, and humanitarian actors. In section three, legal and political responses available to relevant actors to link the prosecution and prevention of TOCs and international crimes are explored. The section first examines whether the International Criminal Court (ICC) should play a role in linking the prosecution of TOCs with the international crimes under its jurisdiction. It then explores the potential and limitations of domestic crime divisions, such as those in Uganda and Kenya, which have jurisdiction over both sets of crimes to link the investigation and prosecution of both sets of crimes. The paper concludes by reflecting on further collaborative research between scholars and practitioners of international criminal law / justice and transnational organized crimes.

Thank you as always for reading and please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any comments (or just words of encouragement!).


About Mark Kersten

Mark Kersten is a consultant at the Wayamo Foundation, a Senior Researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and a law student at McGill University Law School. He is also author of the book, 'Justice in Conflict - The Effects of the International Criminal Court's Interventions on Ending Wars and Building Peace' (Oxford University Press, 2016).
This entry was posted in Academic Articles / Books, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, Islamic State, Kosovo, Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), northern Uganda, Sierra Leone, Transnational Organized Crime. Bookmark the permalink.

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