In case you didn’t know, genocide is not just a thing of the past, a thing that only exists in history textbooks. In fact, it is happening today and our country is taking a small part in unintentionally facilitating it. About two weeks ago, I attended a summit in Washington D.C. for the second time. This gathering of influential people is called the Lemkin Summit. I heard about this event in a class I took senior year of high school where I learned about both past and present genocides. My class went to this summit where we met people from all over the world- DRC, South Sudan, and many other countries. These were people who had witnessed genocide and mass atrocities in their own native land. They had escaped the horrific political climate and were at the Lemkin Summit to share their stories and to push for change in their country. The summit brings people together to educate them about mass atrocities and to lobby for legislation here in our own country to help prevent these crimes from being committed, especially focusing on Central Africa. I was so inspired that I booked my flight to attend again this year.
Every year that the summit is held, there is a different “ask” or a different legislation being focused on. This year, the first two days of this conference helped teach us about the new asks. The first had to do with beneficial ownership. In the U.S., there are no laws saying that when you start a company, you must disclose the beneficial owner. A beneficial owner is the individual who is truly controlling and benefiting from the company. Because there are no laws here about disclosure of beneficial ownership, kleptocratic leaders in Africa are able to take advantage of this and carry out their money laundering through these companies. Through this money laundering and other deceptive ways of exploiting their countries’ wealth, they are able to maintain their power and their corrupt regimes. So, on the third day of the summit, we met with people who work in the Treasury, in Foreign Affairs, and legislative assistant to ask for Representatives’ and Senators’ support in legislation. Specifically, we asked them to support bills that require a company to disclose the beneficial ownership.
The second ask had to do with our Treasury Department. Currently, within this department, there is a team of people that are assigned to the Africa to investigate sanctions and sanction evasion there. However, this team is made up of only two people. That is two people assigned to the entire continent of Africa- where these issues are most relevant. Sometimes, these two people are even temporarily pulled to work on issues in other countries. Investigation is needed urgently especially in Central Africa and certainly requires more than two individuals to make efficient progress. So, we asked government officials to support legislation that will grant three million dollars to the Treasury, adding eight positions to this team.
Hearing from people who have witnessed firsthand the results of these kinds of unjust power has incited a new passion in me to help make a change. I hope to at least spread awareness of what is happening in Africa and to help people understand how our country is involved. There are simple ways you can do something about this- call or write your Representatives or Senators and ask them to support these kinds of legislation. You have a voice and it is your responsibility to advocate for what you care about.