Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2014

Disrupting the Supply Chain for Mass Atrocities

July 2011

Human Rights First


Mass atrocities are organized crimes. Those who commit genocide and crimes against humanity depend on third parties for the goods and services—money, matériel, political support, and a host of other resources—that sustain large-scale violence against civilians. Third parties have supplied military aircraft used by the Sudan Armed Forces against civilians, refined gold and other minerals coming out of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and ensured a steady flow of arms into Rwanda. Governments seeking to prevent atrocities cannot afford a narrow and uncoordinated focus on the perpetrators of such violence. Rather, an effective strategy must include identifying and pressuring third-party enablers—individuals, commercial entities, and countries—in order to interrupt the supply chains that fuel mass violence against civilians.

The first-ever Director of War Crimes, Atrocities, and Civilian Protection on the National Security Staff recently convened a meeting that appears to initiate an interagency structure to coordinate atrocities-prevention initiatives across the government. The Administration has an opportunity in the newly initiated structure to activate all of the U.S. government’s resources to institute an atrocities-prevention policy that goes beyond responding to individual crises. This structure should incorporate a systematic approach to disrupting enablers and should ensure that all possible tools are developed and used to counter these complex crimes. The intelligence community and the Department of the Treasury, along with the Departments of State and Defense, are key to successfully tackling third-party enablers of atrocities.