Home | News    Tuesday 25 November 2003

Oil companies accused of complicity in Sudan conflict, rights abuses

KAMPALA, Nov 25 (AFP) — Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged Tuesday that Sudan’s ample oil reserves were the main cause of the displacement, death and destruction wrought by the county’s civil war.

In a report entitled "Sudan, Oil and Human Rights," released in Kampala, the New York-based rights watchdog accused the Sudanese government of displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians, and oil companies of being accomplices seeking to control oilfields.

"Foreign oil companies operating in Sudan have been in complicity in this displacement, and the death and destruction that have accompanied it," the report charged.

The 754-page report investigated the role of oil in Sudan’s civil war, linking natural resource exploitation with human rights abuses in Africa’s largest country.

"Oil development in southern Sudan should have been a cause of rejoicing for Sudan’s people, but instead, it has brought them nothing but woes," HRW researcher Jemera Rone noted in a separate statement accompanying the report.

"In addition to its regular army, the government has deployed militant Islamic militias to prosecute the war and has armed southern factions in a policy of ethnic manipulation and destabilization," HRW charged.

The group alleged that oil company executives turned a blind eye to "well-reported" government attacks on civilian targets, including aerial bombing of hospitals, churches, relief operations and schools.

"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," Rone observed.

Companies cited included Canada’s Talisman Energy Inc. and the Swedish firm Lundin Oil AB, which HRW says are lead partners in two oil concessions in southern Sudan.

"Amid mounting pressure from rights groups, Talisman sold its interests in a concession in late 2002, and Lundin followed suit in June."

They were replaced by the state-owned oil companies of China and Malaysia.

The report quoted statistics from the Khartoum government indicating that 60 percent of the 580 million dollars in oil revenues in 2001 was spent on the country’s military, both for foreign weapon purchases and for the development of a domestic arms industry.

The civil war in Sudan, which erupted in 1983, has mainly pitted the Islamic north against the Christian and animist south, where the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has been the dominant rebel group.

The report also accused SPLA forces of involvement in serious rights abuses in the struggle over the oilfields, including summary executions of captured combatants.

"SPLA commanding officers have taken no steps to investigate or punish these crimes," the report noted.

It called for the return home of hundreds of thousands of people displaced from the oilfields, adding that they should be given guarantees of safety and compensation for their losses, as a central part of a peace agreement between the government and SPLA rebels.

The war has killed at least 1.5 million people and displaced more than four million.


For further information see HRW web site