- A new report gives further weight to the repeated accusations against foreign oil companies operating in war-torn Sudan. The report intents to document that these oil companies are "complicit in human rights abuses, displacements, death and destruction" in Sudan's oil producing area.
- The Sudanese government's efforts to control oilfields in the war-torn south have resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, the US-based group Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. "Foreign oil companies operating in Sudan have been complicit in this displacement, and the death and destruction that have accompanied it."
The new report - 'Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights' - investigates the role that oil has played in Sudan's civil war. This 754-page report is one of the most comprehensive examinations yet published of the links between natural-resource exploitation and human rights abuses, which for a long time has been a controversial issue.
Earlier investigations, which mostly have been less comprehensive, have been criticised by the Khartoum government, pro-Sudanese groups and oil companies for being politicised. The Khartoum government claims what it calls biased organisations, often based in the US, to have run or influenced these investigations. The Human Rights Watch report however is based on more hard evidence.
- Oil development in southern Sudan should have been a cause of rejoicing for Sudan's people, thus concludes Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher for the human rights group. "Instead, it has brought them nothing but woe."
The report goes far in documenting how the Khartoum government has used the roads, bridges and airfields built by the oil companies as a means for it to launch attacks on civilians in the southern oil region of Western Upper Nile, also known as Unity state.
In addition to its regular army, the government is accused of deploying "militant Islamist militias to prosecute the war" and of arming southern factions in "a policy of ethnic manipulation and destabilisation." These accusations have mostly been indirectly confirmed during the ongoing peace negotiations in Kenya.
The US group uses the report to urge that the current peace negotiations "deal comprehensively with the legacy of Sudan's oil war, particularly the ethnic divisions that persist in oilfields of the south and threaten the long-term peace."
The report further provides evidence of the complicity of oil companies in the human rights abuses. Oil company executives had "turned a blind eye to well-reported government attacks on civilian targets, including aerial bombing of hospitals, churches, relief operations and schools," the report says.
- Oil companies operating in Sudan were aware of the killing, bombing, and looting that took place in the south, all in the name of opening up the oilfields, said Ms Rone. "These facts were repeatedly brought to their attention in public and private meetings, but they continued to operate and make a profit as the devastation went on."
According to the group, conditions for civilians in the oilfields actually worsened when the Canadian company Talisman Energy and the Swedish company Lundin Oil AB were lead partners in two concessions in southern Sudan. Amid mounting pressure from rights groups, Talisman sold its interest in its Sudanese concessions in late 2002, and Lundin followed in June.
These Western-based corporations were replaced by the state-owned oil companies of China and Malaysia - CNPC, or China National Petroleum, and Petronas, or Petrolium Nasional Berhad - which had already been partners with Talisman and Lundin. Following CNPC and Petronas, a third state-owned Asian oil company, India's ONGC Videsh, began operations in Sudan.
The report also holds that oil production had been financing the Sudanese civil war. Statistics from the Sudanese government and the oil companies had shown how the major share (60 percent) of the US$ 580 million received in oil revenue by Sudan in 2001 was absorbed by its military, both for foreign weapons purchases and for the development of a domestic arms industry.
- The Sudanese government has used the oil money in conducting scorched-earth campaigns to drive hundreds of thousands of farmers and pastoralists from their homes atop the oil fields, said Ms Rone. "These civilians have not been compensated nor relocated peacefully-far from it.
- Instead, she continues, "government forces have looted their cattle and grain, and destroyed their homes and villages, killed and injured their relatives, and even prevented emergency relief agencies from bringing any assistance to them."
The 20-year civil war in Sudan has been fought between the Muslim, northern-based Arab-speaking government and the vast marginalised African populations of southern Sudan, where the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) has been the largest rebel group, fighting for independence.
The war has since spread to eastern and central Sudan. While the Khartoum government and SPLA/M signed a cease-fire agreement in October 2002, Western Sudan remains engulfed in war.
The report also covers the SPLM/A's role in the struggle over oilfields. The regular SPLM/A forces were shown to have carried out serious human rights abuses, including summary execution of captured combatants. "Commanding officers of the SPLM/A have taken no steps to investigate or punish these crimes," the report says.
Peace talks promoted by a troika of the United States, Britain and Norway have been underway in Kenya since June 2002. However, the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A, the only parties to the talks, have yet to agree on how to share revenue from the oil reserves, most of which lie in the south. The northern-based government has agreed to a self-determination referendum for the south, but not until 6 1/2 years after the peace agreement is signed.
- The hundreds of thousands of persons displaced from the oilfields should be allowed to return, with guarantees of safety and compensation for their losses," Ms Rone says in a comment to the peace process. "This needs to be a central part of the peace agreement," she adds.
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