Talisman Energy’s role in scorched-earth warfare against civilians
in southern Sudan has been documented by yet another human rights assessment mission. A Canadian/British team just back from Sudan has established, clearly and authoritatively, that Talisman’s concession airstrips are being used for offensive military missions, including attacks on civilians, by Government of Sudan helicopter gunships. This confirms information held by the Canadian Foreign Ministry for over two months, and leaves only one question: when will Foreign Minister John Manley halt clearly established Canadian corporate complicity in the ongoing, brutal destruction of innocent Sudanese civilians? These actions are, without question, war crimes and confer on Mr. Manley both the authority and obligation to end all Canadian complicity.
Eric Reeves [May 15, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Foreign Minister John Manley’s moral failure has already ensured Canadian complicity in the destruction or displacement of thousands of innocent Sudanese lives. Will that moral failure be compounded by a continuing refusal to end a Canadian corporate role in the terrible scorched-earth warfare that ravages so much of the oil concession areas in which Talisman Energy operates?
The question is made inescapable by an extraordinarily damning report issued today by Georgette Gagnon (a Canadian human rights lawyer and member of the original Harker Assessment Mission) and John Ryle (a London-based Africa specialist and expert on Sudan). They conducted a detailed assessment mission in the oil concession areas of southern Sudan from April 8 – 27, 2001. This meticulously prepared document, which records their highly significant findings, comports all too well with all previous reporting on scorched-earth warfare and civilian displacement in the oil concession areas, and in particular the use of Talisman’s airstrips for offensive military missions, including attacks on civilians. [The full document is attached below; it contains numerous important findings about the nature of scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions.]
Their central finding is unambiguous: Talisman’s Greater Nile concession airstrips are being used on a regular basis for offensive military purposes. These offensive military assaults are not occasional, as Talisman has disingenuously tried to suggest, but have occurred with great frequency. Most significantly, many of the assaults have been directed against civilians in an effort by the Khartoum regime to “sanitize” further the concession areas in which Talisman is operating, including its new operations in the Kaikang area of Block 4 (where exploration activities began this immediately past dry season). As Gagnon and Ryle note in their preliminary summary:
“A significant new development [in the armed conflict in the oil regions] is a higher number of direct attacks on civilians by the armed forces of the Government of Sudan. In particular, the team found that government forces launched increasing numbers of helicopter gunship attacks on civilian settlements in or near the operational area of the oil consortium that includes Canada’s Talisman Energy. Some of these helicopters operate from facilities built, maintained and used by the oil consortium.”
And in the detailed section of the report, Gagnon and Ryle report:
“The new [military] strategy [of the Government of Sudan] in Western Upper Nile is both more violent and more territorially focussed, involving coordinated attacks on civilian settlements in which aerial bombardment and raids by helicopter gunships are followed by ground attacks from government-backed militias and government troops. These ground forces burn villages and crops, loot livestock and kill and abduct men, women and children.”
“The new investigation concludes that military usage [of Talisman’s concession airstrips] has been considerably higher—and that it continues. The pattern of use is one of indiscriminate attacks and intentional targeting by gunships of civilians in villages in non-government controlled areas in and around the concession. (The Government of Sudan is the only warring party that has access to combat aircraft, helicopter gunships and bombers.)
“The investigation has determined that at least two of the government’s helicopter gunships are based at oil facilities in Heglig. Defecting soldiers from the Government of Sudan army base in Heglig and civilian victims of gunship attacks testified to investigators that gunships have flown regular sorties from Heglig to attack civilian settlements.
“The investigators obtained eyewitness accounts from people attacked by gunships in non-government controlled areas of the concession throughout 2000 and 2001. Eyewitnesses identified flight patterns of the attacking helicopters that indicated they came from and returned to Heglig and other oil fields in the concession.”
And from their conclusion:
“The evidence suggests that indigenous, non-Arab people living in rural areas in the GNPOC/Talisman Energy concession (and the people of Western Upper Nile in general) are regarded by the Sudan government and its armed forces as an obstacle to further oil development. They are seen not as citizens but as a security risk, potential supporters of rebel movements, to be forcibly moved off the land that they inhabit to facilitate oil development. Inhabitants of rural areas are compelled by government military action to flee their homes, to move to non-government controlled areas further south or deeper in the swampland.”
These powerful conclusions of the Gagnon/Ryle mission report give unambiguous meaning to the findings of Canada’s political officer in Khartoum, Nicholas Coghlan. Mr. Coghlan reported to the Foreign Ministry over two and a half months ago (February 27, 2001) the following:
“The Government O[f] S[udan] is meanwhile taking the Tamur [oil rig] attack seriously. For the past month there have been two Hind gunships stationed at Unity Field, and interlocutors told me they had been flying sorties almost every day, taking on large amounts of ammunition, ‘and unloading none…’. There is a third Hind at Rubkona, apparently out of action, having taken excessive dust into its intake. By some accounts, this represents half of the GOS’s entire fleet of combat helicopters. Talisman have indicated to the GOS their unease at this situation and have sought assurances that the Hinds’ presence is purely defensive.”
To date, Mr. Manley has seemed content with the preposterous conclusion that helicopter gunships deployed in this fashion (“flying sorties almost every day, taking on large amounts of ammunition, ‘and unloading none…'”) may be engaged exclusively in purely defensive actions. This conclusion was preposterous on its face, but now the detailed and compelling additional information supplied by the Gagnon/Ryle report makes it transparently untenable. Attacks on civilians cannot possibly be construed, even given Mr. Manley’s expansive understanding of the word, as “defensive.”
Indeed, though neither Mr. Manley nor his office has referred to the findings of the original Harker Assessment Mission on this subject, these findings are worth bearing in mind because of their decisive emphasis on military assaults on civilians from Talisman facilities:
“[H]elicopter gunships and Antonov bombers of the Government of Sudan […] have armed and re-fueled at Heglig [airstrip] and from there attacked civilians. This is totally incontrovertible.” [page 65 of the Harker Report, January 2000]
How can it be that such deadly Canadian corporate complicity goes unchecked? What manner of immoral callousness can plead impotence before such terrible findings, as damning as they are indisputable? How in the name of suffering and destroyed innocence can the Canadian Foreign Minister give the policy equivalent of a shrug to the deaths of defenseless children and women, deaths which have now been directly, repeatedly, authoritatively tied to military assaults originating from Talisman Energy’s facilities in Sudan?
These are war crimes, Mr. Manley. The military attacks in which a Canadian corporation is complicit are actionable under various international war crime conventions. You do not have simply the authority to end Talisman’s complicity in war crimes; you have both a legal and a moral obligation of the highest order. Your ongoing failure to meet this obligation has made you complicit as well. You are disgracing Canada’s extraordinary record as a defender of human rights and human security.
Report of an Investigation into Oil Development, Conflict and Displacement in Western Upper Nile, Sudan
[By Georgette Gagnon and John Ryle]
A team consisting of a Canadian and a British investigator has documented an intensification of armed attacks on civilians in Sudan’s contested oil region in Western Upper Nile during the past year. These attacks have been carried out by government forces and pro-government militias and also by rebel forces. A significant new development is a higher number of direct attacks on civilians by the armed forces of the Government of Sudan. In particular, the team found that government forces launched increasing numbers of helicopter gunship attacks on civilian settlements in or near the operational area of the oil consortium that includes Canada’s Talisman Energy. Some of these helicopters operate from facilities built, maintained and used by the oil consortium. These attacks appear to be part of a renewed Sudan government strategy to displace the indigenous non-Arab rural population from rural areas of the oil region in order to clear and secure territory for oil development.
The largest of the on-stream oil concessions in Sudan is operated by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company Limited (GNPOC), a consortium in which the Canadian company Talisman Energy is a partner with a 25% interest. The GNPOC/Talisman concession includes Blocks 1, 2 and 4. The greater part of this concession is located in Southern Sudan, in Western Upper Nile (referred to by the Government of Sudan as Unity State and by a rebel movement controlling many of its rural areas as Leech State).
Most of the rural areas in the concession have been outside the control of the government since the start of the current civil war in 1983. Those areas have been administered successively by two rebel movements, the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the former South Sudan Independence Movement/Army (SSIM/A). Today, control of the non-government areas of the concession is divided between the SPLM/A and the Sudan People’s Democratic Front/Defence Forces (SPDF), a successor movement to the SSIM/A.
The economy of Western Upper Nile is based on livestock herding, agriculture and fishing. The majority of the indigenous inhabitants are from non-Arab, non-Muslim ethnic groups – the Nuer and the Dinka. It is an economy based on seasonal movement back and forth between permanent villages and cattle camps. The few towns in the area function as administrative posts for the Sudan government and as market centres. During most of the past fifteen years in Western Upper Nile, the armed forces of the government have been confined to garrison towns and to roads leading from those towns to the north. The government’s military strategy during the greater part of this period has been to support proxy forces – Baggara Arab militias from the north and pro-government Nuer groups within the south. These militias have been encouraged to attack and loot Nuer and Dinka settlements and cattle camps, driving their inhabitants further south or into government garrison towns or to the government-controlled north of the country.
For a short period in the late 1990s, a peace agreement between the Government of Sudan and the SSIM/A allowed for the extension of government authority into some of the rural areas of the concession, enabling expansion of oil development and completion of a pipeline from the oil fields north to Port Sudan. The collapse of this peace agreement in 1999 and the return of SSIM/A forces to their bases in non-government areas prompted an alteration in the Sudan government’s military strategy. The new strategy in Western Upper Nile is both more violent and more territorially focussed, involving coordinated attacks on civilian settlements in which aerial bombardment and raids by helicopter gunships are followed by ground attacks from government-backed militias and government troops. These ground forces burn villages and crops, loot livestock and kill and abduct men, women and children.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
Following the finding by the Harker mission in December 1999 that helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers of the Government of Sudan armed and re-fueled at Heglig and from there attacked civilians, Talisman acknowledged that the Heglig airstrip had been used for military purposes. Heglig is a government town that is the center of Talisman’s oil operations in Sudan. In January 2000, the company stated that it had received undertakings from the Government of Sudan that military use of the Heglig airstrip would be limited to defensive purposes. However, in its corporate social responsibility report released in April 2001, Talisman conceded that in spite of its “advocacy efforts” regarding the use of oil infrastructure for offensive military purposes, “there were at least four instances of non-defensive usage of the Heglig airstrip in 2000.”
The new investigation concludes that military usage has been considerably higher—and that it continues. The pattern of use is one of indiscriminate attacks and intentional targeting by gunships of civilians in villages in non-government controlled areas in and around the concession. (The Government of Sudan is the only warring party that has access to combat aircraft, helicopter gunships and bombers.)
The investigation has determined that at least two of the government’s helicopter gunships are based at oil facilities in Heglig. Defecting soldiers from the Government of Sudan army base in Heglig and civilian victims of gunship attacks testified to investigators that gunships have flown regular sorties from Heglig to attack civilian settlements.
The investigators obtained eyewitness accounts from people attacked by gunships in non-government controlled areas of the concession throughout 2000 and 2001. Eyewitnesses identified flight patterns of the attacking helicopters that indicated they came from and returned to Heglig and other oil fields in the concession.
The incidence of other human rights violations in and around the concession escalated in 2000 and early 2001. The investigation documented a wide range of abuses connected with forced displacement of people. Defecting soldiers from the Sudan government’s military base at Heglig testified that they had been ordered to participate in ground attacks on non-government controlled villages around Pariang, a government-controlled town in the concession, in order to force the inhabitants out of the area. The soldiers testified that they had been instructed to kill civilians and any persons not loyal to the Government of Sudan. This, they stated, was for the purpose of securing the oil fields for development.
There were also incidents of attacks on settlements by armed groups aligned with the SPLA/M and by those aligned with the SPDF (formerly the SSIM/A). There were three recorded attacks in 2000 and 2001 on oil installations or infrastructure by rebel forces in Western Upper Nile.
In 2000 and 2001, Talisman expanded operations on Block 4 of the concession in Kaikang. This is an area inhabited until the mid-1980s by indigenous agro-pastoralists from the Bul section of the Nuer people. They were driven from their villages soon after the beginning of the war in 1983 by pro-government Baggara Arab militias from Northern Sudan and took refuge in the southern part of their territory (south of the river Bahr-el-Ghazal). In the late 1980s, following local agreements between the Nuer and the Baggara Arabs, some Bul settlements north of the river were re-established.
The investigators received reports that Talisman’s expansion activities in Kaikang were preceded in 2000 by forced displacement of the inhabitants of seven villages in the Kaikang area by government-backed militias and by the bombing of villages in non-government controlled areas close to the expansion site. Since the Government of Sudan declined to issue visas to the investigators, it was not possible to visit the Kaikang area to confirm or disconfirm those reports.
The investigators found no evidence that significant economic or other benefits from oil development are accruing to indigenous communities in Western Upper Nile and no sign that the Government of Sudan is using oil revenues to assist the civilian population in Talisman’s concession, or in Southern Sudan in general. It appears, rather, that oil revenues received by the government are linked to increases in military expenditure. For example, the Government of Sudan recently established, with Chinese assistance, three new factories for the manufacture of arms and ammunition near Khartoum.
The investigation found that Southern Sudanese in their early teens have been forcibly conscripted into the armed forces of the Government of Sudan and trained at a military camp near Heglig, and are currently providing security in areas of oil development.
The evidence suggests that indigenous, non-Arab people living in rural areas in the GNPOC/Talisman Energy concession (and the people of Western Upper Nile in general) are regarded by the Sudan government and its armed forces as an obstacle to further oil development. They are seen not as citizens but as a security risk, potential supporters of rebel movements, to be forcibly moved off the land that they inhabit to facilitate oil development.
Inhabitants of rural areas are compelled by government military action to flee their homes, to move to non-government controlled areas further south or deeper in the swampland (both within and outside the concession), or else into government-controlled towns in the concession (primarily Bentiu and Pariang) and Northern Sudan. The continuing process of displacement has repeatedly interrupted the agricultural cycle in Western Upper Nile and reduced livestock numbers, bringing the area’s inhabitants close to starvation. Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), the United Nations-led emergency relief operation, has a tri-partite agreement with government and rebel movements to operate in both government and non-government controlled areas of Southern Sudan. But OLS access to airstrips in rebel-controlled areas has been reduced in the past year by government flight denials and by the danger of aerial bombardment from government aircraft. In government areas, access by displaced people to available food relief is limited: in April 2001, the United Nations’ World Food Program reported that malnutrition rates in government-controlled Bentiu town were among the highest in Southern Sudan.
Conflict between the two rebel movements operating in Western Upper Nile and between those rebel movements and government-backed militias has continued to be an important cause of disruption of the lives of the civilian inhabitants of the area. But direct military action by government forces, in conjunction with pro-government militias, is now a key factor in the forced displacement of people in Western Upper Nile.
The conclusions of this investigation are the result of a series of visits to locations in non-government controlled areas in the concession and in adjacent areas of Western Upper Nile. The investigators conducted extensive interviews with local inhabitants and displaced persons in those areas. Over half of Talisman’s concession area is outside the control of the Sudan government and the majority of the concession’s inhabitants are not under government authority. The investigators also held discussions with field-based emergency humanitarian workers, Northern Sudanese Arab traders, Nairobi-based diplomats, Sudanese and non-Sudanese academics and researchers and local officials of the two rebel movements administering the non-government-controlled areas (the SPLM/A and the SPDF).
Although the Government of Sudan declined to issue visas for the team, the investigators were able to speak to individuals who had recent experience of events in government-controlled towns, including former government employees, members of the government armed forces and employees of oil companies.
The investigation, funded by Canadian and British non-governmental organizations, was conducted between April 8 and 27 by Georgette Gagnon, an international human rights lawyer and member of the Canadian government-sponsored Harker mission that visited Sudan in December 1999, and John Ryle, an Africa specialist and author of numerous studies on Sudan. A full report will be available in June.