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Sudan: Oil and Rights Abuses
Nov 28, 2003 (031128)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
While diplomats say there are good chances of achieving a peace
settlement in Sudan by the end of the year, fighting nevertheless
continues in western Sudan, and the United Nations has appealed for
$450 million to support some 3.5 million displaced Sudanese. Human
Rights Watch has just released an extensive new report documenting
the complicity of oil companies with human rights abuses in Sudan,
and warning that disputes over oil revenue have the potential to
further prolong the conflict.
The report, entitled Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights, notes that
despite the recent withdrawal of Canadian and Swedish companies,
Asian companies are continuing the operations together with the
Sudanese government. This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a
press release and excerpts from the summary of the report.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Sudan: Oil Companies Complicit in Rights Abuses
Human Rights Watch
(London, November 25, 2003) The Sudanese government's efforts to
control oilfields in the war-torn south have resulted in the
displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, 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 full report, Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights, is available at:
The report, "Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights," investigates the role
that oil has played in Sudan's civil war. This 754-page report is
the most comprehensive examination yet published of the links
between natural-resource exploitation and human rights abuses.
"Oil development in southern Sudan should have been a cause of
rejoicing for Sudan's people," said Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher
for Human Rights Watch. "Instead, it has brought them nothing but
The report documents how the 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 has deployed militant Islamist militias to
prosecute the war, and has armed southern factions in a policy of
ethnic manipulation and destabilization.
Human Rights Watch urged 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 provides evidence of the complicity of oil companies in
the human rights abuses. Oil company executives turned a blind eye
to well-reported government attacks on civilian targets, including
aerial bombing of hospitals, churches, relief operations and
"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 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."
Conditions for civilians in the oilfields actually worsened when
the Canadian company Talisman Energy Inc. 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 Corp., 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 Ltd., began operations in Sudan.
Statistics from the Sudanese government and the oil companies show
how the major share (60 percent) of the US$580 million received in
oil revenue by this poverty-stricken country 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 Rone.
"These civilians have not been compensated nor relocated
peacefully-far from it. Instead, 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
Islamist, northern-based Arab-speaking government and the vast
marginalized African populations of southern Sudan, where the Sudan
People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) has been the largest
rebel group. The war spread to eastern and central Sudan, and while
the parties 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 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.
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," Rone said. "This needs to be a
central part of the peace agreement."
Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights
[excerpts from report summary; full 22-page summary and full report
available at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/sudan1103]
The first export of crude oil from Sudan in August 1999 marked a
turning point in the country's complex civil war, now in its
twentieth year: oil became the main objective and a principal cause
of the war. Oil now figures as an important remaining obstacle to
a lasting peace and oil revenues have been used by the government
to obtain weapons and ammunition that have enabled it to intensify
the war and expand oil development. Expansion of oil development
has continued to be accompanied by the violent displacement of the
agro-pastoral southern Nuer and Dinka people from their traditional
lands atop the oilfields. Members of such communities continue to
be killed or maimed, their homes and crops burned, and their grains
and cattle looted.
The large-scale exploitation of oil by foreign companies operating
in the theatre of war in southern Sudan has increased human rights
abuses there and has exacerbated the long-running conflict in
Sudan, a conflict marked already by gross human rights abuses two
million dead, four million displaced since 1983 and recurring
famine and epidemics.
Forced displacement of the civilian population, and the death and
destruction that have accompanied it, are the central human rights
issues relating to oil development in Sudan. The government is
directly responsible for this forced displacement, which it has
undertaken to provide security to the operations of its partners,
the international and mostly foreign state-owned oil companies. In
the government's eyes, the centuries-long residents of the
oilfields, the Nuer, Dinka, and other southern Sudanese, pose a
security threat to the oilfields because control and ownership of
the south's natural resources are contested by southern rebels and
government officials perceive the pastoral peoples as sympathetic
to the rebels. But the Sudanese government itself has helped to
create the threat by forging ahead with oil development in southern
territory under circumstances in which its residents have no right
to participate in their own governance nor share the benefits of
oil development. Brute force has been a key component of the
government's oil development strategy.
The oil in the ground and flowing through the pipeline to the Red
Sea supertanker port has driven expulsions from Western Upper
Nile/Unity State, the area of the main oil production today. In
earlier campaigns in the 1980s government troops and horsebacked
militia of the Baggara, Arabized cattle nomads of Darfur and
Kordofan, invaded from the northwest, destroying communities and
expelling much of the population from the initial exploration
areas, in Blocks 1, 2, and 4, dangerously situated on the
north-south border of Sudan. (Map B)
In the 1990s the government embarked upon a more sophisticated
displacement campaign, through the use of divide-and-conquer
tactics: it bought off rebel factions and exacerbated south-south
ethnic differences with arms supplies. Mostly Nuer factions with
political and other grievances against the Dinka-officered rebel
Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A, referred to as
SPLA when discussing the military wing), emerged and a bloody
south-south war ensued, concentrated in the oilfield areas.
Campaigns of killing, pillage, and burning, enabled by government
troops and air support for their southern allies who served as
front troops, cleared the way for Western and Asian oil
corporations to develop the basic infrastructure for oil extraction
and transportation: rigs, roads, pumping stations, and pipelines.
The relationship of the war and displacement campaign to oil
development is evident: the oil areas targeted for population
clearance are those where a concession has been granted and a
pipeline is imminent and/or nearby. The availability of the means
of transport of oil to the market makes the nearest undeveloped
block economically viable. The agro-pastoralists living there then
become the target of forced displacement. Since 1999, when the
pipeline was nearing completion and Blocks 1, 2, and 4 came on line
with 150,000, then 230,000 barrels of crude oil produced daily, the
main military theatre has been in the adjacent Block 5A. Oil
revenues enable the government to increase its military hardware:
it tripled its fleet of attack helicopters in 2001 with the
purchase abroad of twelve new helicopters used to deadly effect in
the killing of twenty-four civilians at a relief food distribution
site in early 2002, to cite only one example.
In a number of cases, international oil companies in Sudan have
denied that any abuses were taking place in connection with oil
exploration and production. Despite considerable evidence to the
contrary, oil company executives have claimed that they were
unaware of any uncompensated forced displacement as a result of oil
operations. They have also claimed to have undertaken
investigations establishing that abuses are minimal or nonexistent.
As noted below, such efforts do not stand up to scrutiny.
Increasingly, under pressure from nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs) and some concerned governments, oil company representatives
have claimed instead that they are playing a positive role in
difficult circumstances to monitor and rein in abuses. As detailed
below, such claims have consistently been self-serving. Human
Rights Watch believes that oil companies in Sudan, seeking to make
a profit in areas of the country wracked by civil war and often
brutally cleared of indigenous peoples, have an obligation to see
that rights abuses connected with oil production cease.
Ongoing armed conflict has led to continued flight; establishment
of government garrisons has prevented the displaced from returning
to their homes. While both sides employ modern weapons, the
government has produced and purchased more and better weapons with
its new oil money, including sixteen new attack helicopter gunships
in 2001-2002, more than tripling its military helicopter fleet.
The government made civilian suffering worse by banning relief
flights from reaching those who try to cling on in areas the
government wants cleared. The government repeatedly refused
international relief access to Nuer and Dinka oilfield areas that
were in rebellion against the government, calculating that the
civilians, who have lost everything in attacks on their villages,
would be forced by famine to migrate elsewhere anywhere in search
of food. It also prohibited humanitarian access to those recently
displaced, if they remained in areas near the oilfields.
Even as the government entered into peace negotiations in 2002, it
stepped up its attempts to close off Western Upper Nile/Unity State
to all relief except that which went to its garrison towns.
Finally, under extreme foreign pressure and in the middle of peace
talks, the Sudanese government relented on humanitarian access in
October 2002. The ceasefire, signed that same month, was broken
mostly in Western Upper Nile/Unity State's oilfields.
Like other oil companies engaged in Sudan, Talisman knew or should
have known that oil production was taking place in areas where
local pastoral populations lacked the basic rights necessary to
defend their interests. Talisman also knew or should have known of
government displacement and attacks on civilians in its and
adjacent concessions prior to its investment in Sudan; it knew or
should have known that the government was attacking civilians in
Talisman's GNPOC concession in May 1999 and thereafter, and that
forced displacement of civilians by government forces was occurring
in this and adjacent concessions. Although Talisman would
occasionally protest to the government of Sudan (for instance, on
the use of the airstrip), it also knew or should have known that
government forces were targeting civilian infrastructure, including
aerial bombings of hospitals, churches, and schools throughout the
south and the Nuba mountains.44
Talisman's complicity in the government's abuses was not limited to
its inaction in the face of the continued displacement campaign
rolling through the oil areas. Its activities in some cases
assisted forcible displacement and attacks on civilians. For
example, it allowed government forces to use the Talisman/GNPOC
airfield and road infrastructure in circumstances in which it knew
or should have known that the facilities would be used to conduct
further displacement and wage indiscriminate or disproportionate
military attacks that struck and/or targeted civilians and civilian
objects. Its activities also allowed the government to expand its
program of forced displacement into Block 5A, which had been
overlooked in the conflict until the pipeline neared completion
just seventy-five kilometers from Block 5A's first drilling site.
Based on the findings of our research, Human Rights Watch concludes
that CNPC and Petronas operations in the GNPOC Sudanese oil
concession Blocks 1,2, 4 (and the operations of Talisman Energy
prior to the sale of its interest), and Lundin, Petronas, and OMV
operations in Block 5A have been complicit in human rights
violations. Their activities are inextricably intertwined with the
government's abuses; the abuses are gross; the corporate presence
fuels, facilitates, or benefits from violations; and no remedial
measures exist to mitigate those abuses. Human Rights Watch
believes that a corporation should not operate in Sudan if its
presence there has an unavoidable, negative impact on human rights.
Human Rights Watch therefore recommends that all foreign oil
companies immediately suspend their operations in Sudan, and agree
to resume them only when certain minimum human rights benchmarks
The peace talks in August 2003 were to discuss the outstanding
issues. The parties were to decide, among other things, on
deployment of troops and police during the interim period; the
SPLM/A wanted two armies (the SPLA and that of the Sudanese
government) and the government wanted a united army.
The future role of the pro-government southern militias, mostly
Nuer, is crucial for a lasting peace, as this report illustrates.
As of the writing of this report, the parties to the peace talks do
not seem to have reached this vital topic. The government-backed
southern militias, now organized under the umbrella of the SSDF,
are not party to the talks, and their political counterparts, some
of which are technically in the government, have not been allowed
to play any role at the IGAD talks. An SSDF delegation was
permitted to attend security talks in April 2003 and tabled a
proposal for three armies during the interim period (the third
being the SSDF). This proposal was not discussed nor addressed by
the parties to the talks.
The mostly Nuer militias remain a stumbling block for the SPLM/A,
which lays claim to govern the entire south. These militias (or
armed groups, as they ask to be called) are also a challenge to the
government, which does not trust them because they are southerners
and continue to insist on the right of self-determination as
outlined in the Khartoum Peace Agreement of 1997. Although the SPLA
seems to have a position, from time to time, within Block 5A
sufficient to block its development, the government militias are
situated in different parts of Blocks 1, 2, 4, 5A, and 5 in Western
Upper Nile/Unity State, and in Blocks 3 and 7 in the Melut Basin in
Eastern Upper Nile also. These areas have changed hands often, even
after the October 2002 ceasefire, demonstrating the parties' and
the militias'/armed groups' continued high interest in controlling
the valuable oil resource.
If peace is reached, it should mean that there will be no more
fighting or displacement of civilians from the oilfields or
elsewhere, and that the displaced may return to their homes.
Whether they will return with compensation for the losses suffered
and international monitoring of the parties' respect for human
rights is not yet known. The serious human rights abuses detailed
in this report have never been accounted for by any of the parties
to the conflict.
Nor is it clear that the fighting and the abuses will end with a
peace agreement. If peace means that the SPLM/A is the sole
government of the southern region and it refuses to compromise or
reconcile with the other southern military and political forces, it
is likely that Sudanese government hard-liners will continue to use
the SSDF militia/armed groups to foment war in the south in order
to frustrate the goal of a self-determination referendum. In these
circumstances, displacement and death in the oil war will continue
to be the fate of southern Sudanese, even if a peace agreement is
signed by the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A.
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