May 25, 2001
Thomas Ekvall, Chair of United Nations Systems
Dear Mr. Ekvall:
It is my understanding that you very recently chaired a meeting in Khartoum of the “Humanitarian Aid Forum” at which a report was made by the Dutch charge d’affaires on the oil regions of southern Sudan. It is my further understanding, corroborated by several sources with knowledge of this meeting, that the report suggested there was no Government of Sudan policy of “scorched-earth warfare” in the oil regions.
The basis for this extraordinary conclusion was a three-day “assessment mission” that travelled only to Government of Sudan-controlled territories. Participants evidently included representatives of France, Holland, Britain, and Germany. (Assisting in the mission, according to my sources, were Talisman Energy, Lundin Oil, the United Nations—and of course the Government of Sudan).
The motivation for such a mission is perforce controversial, given European commercial interests in Sudan’s oil development projects. But of greater concern is why it was felt that a three-day assessment mission, limited exclusively to areas controlled by the Government of Sudan, might substitute for the comprehensive reports of the UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan, especially Gaspar Biro and Leonardo Franco, who both found abundant evidence of scorched-earth warfare. I refer you especially to the October 1999 report of Dr. Franco.
And of course their reports do not stand alone: the report of a Canadian Assessment Mission (the “Harker Report,” commissioned by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy) also found massive evidence of “scorched-earth warfare” in the oil regions, and explicitly affirmed the UN findings:
“It is difficult to avoid [UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan] Leonardo Franco’s conclusion that a ‘swath of scorched earth/cleared territory’ is being created around the oilfields. Over the years, the series of attacks and displacements are leading to a gradual depopulation, as only a percentage of people who flee return after each displacement.”
This comes from a 140-page report, compiled by a distinguished team of experts, who spent a great deal of time in both the north and south of Sudan; they were carefully chosen for their abilities to conduct such an assessment. Again and again, they provide telling evidence of what can only be called “scorched-earth warfare.”
In turn, the findings of the UN Special Rapporteurs have also been repeatedly confirmed, in the most emphatic terms, by other humanitarian and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International (“Sudan—The Human Price of Oil,” May 3, 2000) and Christian Aid (“The Scorched Earth: Oil and War in Sudan,” March 2001); both organizations have recently issued follow-up reports reaffirming their findings. Also confirming the findings of the UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan is the distinguished Human Rights Watch, which will soon be issuing its own lengthy study of scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions. I would call your attention to a key finding in their annual report on Sudan of December 2000 (based on exhaustive professional research):
“The government continued its campaign of creating a cordon sanitaire around new oil fields by forcibly displacing the Nuer population. In addition to aerial bombardment and scorched-earth attacks by government troops, the government armed Nuer proxies to fight against anti-government Nuer. The government routinely banned UN relief aircraft from Western Upper Nile on security grounds, although its military campaigns produced tens of thousands of freshly displaced civilians, who were burned and looted out of their homes by pro-government Nuer militia and the government army.”
And beyond these authoritative reports, unanimous in their conclusions that “scorched-earth warfare” is indeed a reality in the oil regions of Sudan, there are the reports of numerous news reporters who have gone to the oil regions from the south, aid workers, and others working in the oil regions. Indeed, I would call particular attention to the exceptionally well-informed views of Diane de Guzman, former Humanitarian Principles Coordinator in the southern sector of the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan.
“I have seen burned villages. I have interviewed men whose children were burned in alive in their huts. The Government of Sudan is not fighting other military forces to clear territory for oil exploration. The government and its militias are attacking women, children, and the elderly. These are hit-and-run scorched-earth attacks on civilians. [Dagens Nyheter (Sweden), April 1, 2001]
Can such deeply informed findings by your fellow UN workers be casually dismissed in a report compiled over three days by clearly interested parties? The report you listened to in evident silence charges that findings like Ms. de Guzman’s are “hearsay.”
Do you believe such testimony is “hearsay” Mr. Ekvall?
Finally, the report you heard in Khartoum ignored the findings of a very recent Canadian/British human rights assessment mission that worked intensely in areas of the oil concessions not controlled by the Government of Sudan (over half the concession areas, as you must be aware, are not under government control). This assessment mission, which lasted from April 8 to 27, 2001, was conducted by Georgette Gagnon, a distinguished international human rights lawyer and member of the Harker assessment mission, and John Ryle, an Africa specialist and author of numerous studies on Sudan. They found compelling, extensive evidence of helicopter gunships using the concession airstrips of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) for attacks on civilians (GNPOC includes Talisman Energy, one of the facilitators of the three-day mission whose report you heard). Gagnon and Ryle, too, describe human destruction and displacement that can only be described as “scorched-earth warfare.”
So the inevitable question, Mr. Ekvall, is why you sat silently at the Humanitarian Aid Forum meeting and did not challenge what you knew were the tendentious, deeply skewed, and excessively limited findings of a report on such a serious issue?
Is it that you really believe a three-day mission, exclusively to areas controlled by the Government of Sudan, can substitute for the massive, authoritative, and disinterested reporting on the phenomenon of scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions of southern Sudan? Did you not see that such a report was hopelessly limited in its scope and its possibilities for evidentiary discovery? Did you not see that those participating in the mission represent governments with very substantial commercial interests in Sudan and the oil sector in particular?
And if you saw these obvious limitations and biases, why did you not say anything? Why did you continue the UN’s policy of silence on the realities of oil development, realities that your own UN fellow workers have seen and reported on in such compelling fashion?
You, Mr. Ekvall, in your silence, have become another complicit party in the ongoing oil-driven destruction of southern Sudan. You have helped to institutionalize the UN’s acquiescence in scorched-earth warfare. You have put your desire not to offend the Khartoum regime above your commitment to the truth, and ultimately above the welfare and lives of southern Sudanese. It is an appalling expediency, and a measure of the deep corruption of the UN in Sudan.
Sincerely, Eric Reeves
Northampton, MA 01063