Link between oil and abuses in Sudan documented

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USCR, 15 March - The British charity Christian Aid has called on foreign oil companies involved in Sudan to pull out because of what it calls the government's systematic policy of depopulating oil-rich areas in a report released today. Other sources say there is not enough proof to verify these allegations, although the documentation seems overwhelming. 

As pressure grows for an international divestment campaign, Christian Aid report "The scorched earth: oil and war in Sudan," presents new eyewitness testimony showing that Sudanese government forces and sponsored militias are mounting a systematic "scorched earth" strategy in and around the oilfields where foreign companies operate. The report quotes displaced civilians as saying their villages were attacked by air before government troops burned down their homes and killed those unable to flee. 

- Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and displaced by a systematic policy of depopulating the oil-rich areas, says Mark Curtis, Christian Aid's head of policy. "Each time an oil concession is developed, it is accompanied by massive human rights violations," Curtis claims. 

The claims by Christian Aid are not new, but its independent eyewitness testimonies deepen the documentation of the assaults by the Sudanese government. Similar claims have earlier been made by for example Roger Winter from the US Committee for Refugees (USCR) and Dr Eric Reeves, an American academic campaigning to secure international sanctions on Sudan and divestment from the foreign oil companies involved in the Sudanese oil industry, and others over the last three years.

UN sources so far have not been able to verify this. UN agencies, like the World Food Programme (WFP), are present in the Southern Sudanese field, but say it is extremely hard to verify the contents of these reports because of the difficulty of visiting the area in question. The WFP indeed has proof that many people "forcibly [have been] removed from their homes," but states it is due to the civil war. It has not been able to differentiate the causes behind displacements. The independent testimonies collected by Christian Aid might however change this situation. 

Roger Winter from the US Committee for Refugees (USCR) however also bases his documentation on the USCR presence in Southern Sudan. In a February 2001 statement, he claims, "ethnic cleansing linked to oil development in southern Sudan is causing massive civilian displacement" in southern Sudan. The London based The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council (ESPAC) however denies these allegations, claiming Reeves and Winter "are supporters of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA)" and are too "selective in which 'displacements'" they are interested in, "ignoring" displacements the SPLA is responsible for. ESPAC is seen as close to the Sudanese government.

Christian Aid has worked in Sudan for more than 30 years and has 24 Sudanese partners in both north and south Sudan, aiding in the collection of testimonies published in today's report. The interviews include talks with displaced people and village chiefs, but also with humanitarian aid workers knowing the area for years. 

Thar Jath oil field
One of the examples elaborated in Christian Aid's report is the exploratory well at Thar Jath, 10 miles west of the Nile, in the Benti area, were the Swedish oil company Lundin Oil in April 1999 reported finding as many as 300 million barrels of "excellent" reservoir quality oil. A month later, according to Human Rights Watch, the government moved troops to Thar Jath and adjacent areas, displacing tens of thousands of people.

Lundin Oil was hindered from drilling for ten months, due to fighting between government troops and rebel groups. In January 2001, Lundin resumed drilling "within days of the inauguration of the 75 kilometre all-weather road" paid for by Lundin at a cost of up to US$ 400,000 per kilometre. 

In the intervening ten months, as the oilfield tripled in size and its airstrip was extended, government troops and militias had burned and depopulated the entire length of this oil road. "In visits to Western Upper Nile in August and November 2000, Christian Aid found thousands of Nuer civilians displaced from villages along this road, hundreds of miles away in Dinka Bahr el-Ghazal. They all told the same tale. Antonovs [transporter airplanes] bombed the villages to scatter the people," according to the report.

- Then government troops arrived by truck and helicopter, burning the villages and killing anyone who was unable to flee, in most cases, the old and the very young, the report says. Chief Peter Ring Pathai told Christian Aid that government troops airlifted to Kuach were shooting at villagers from the air, hanging out of the doors of their helicopters. "All the villages along the road have been burned," said John Wicjial Bayak, a local official who had been driven from a village close to the oil road.5 "You cannot see a single hut. The government doesn't want people anywhere near the oil."

Aid workers who have flown over the oil road confirm these claims. An independent aid worker familiar with the area said that all the villages 6 that once existed along the road to Pulteri have been razed to the ground. "As one flies along the new oil road, the only sign of life are the lorries travelling at high speed back and forth to the oilfield," the aid worker told Christian Aid. "Small military garrisons are clearly visible every five kilometres." 

According to village chiefs, systematic attacks on the villages along the oil road began in March 2000, the month Lundin suspended drilling. The Lundin case thus presents valuable, new, independent proof that the Sudanese government indeed is forcefully depopulating these oil-producing areas. 

"Companies should divest"
- Lundin, Talisman and other foreign oil companies operating in Sudan should immediately suspend operations until an agreement for a just and last peace is achieved, says Mark Curtis. "After numerous authoritative reports demonstrating the scale of the disaster, they cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the atrocities being carried out in the name of oil. Just as Shell had to accept some responsibility in Nigeria, so companies operating in Sudan must accept that under current conditions, they, too, are complicit."

This report follows BP's refusal last week to accept shareholder resolutions questioning its 2.2 per cent holding in PetroChina. PetroChina operates in Tibet and is indirectly linked to Sudan through its parent corporation, the Chinese state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which is a major operator in an oil area of intense human rights violations. Shareholders and institutional investors in the US and Canada, in a campaign reminiscent of South Africa divestment, are pressuring Talisman. Two weeks ago the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest its Talisman shares.

Oil giants BP and Shell have an indirect stake in Sudan through their investments in two CNPC subsidiaries. The report argues that the "firewall" which BP says has been erected to prevent funds from moving from PetroChina and Sinopec to the parent company, CNPC, is not guaranteed given the secretive nature of Chinese-owned companies. 

Mark Curtis says: "We believe that BP is risking its reputation through its association with CNPC. Christian Aid calls on BP and Shell to divest their holdings and on the UK government to introduce legislation to ensure that British transnationals are not directly or indirectly complicit in human rights violations."

Since the completion of the oil pipeline two years ago, Sudan has become a net oil exporter - earning enough to pay for the estimated US$ 1 million a day it spends on the war. "Sudan's 18-year civil war, in which two million people have died, is now fuelled by oil revenues," Curtis says. "Fighting in the oil areas has become not just a battle between the government and the opposition Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), but a bitter oil war over control of the country's natural resources. Recent fighting between militias, as well as the government's refusal to allow aid flights into the affected areas, has heightened the humanitarian disaster."

Source: Based on Christian Aid and afrol archives

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