The war on humanitarian relief by the Government of Sudan.
The Christian Aid report (“Scorched Earth: Oil and War in Sudan,” March 13, 2001) presents, as part of its larger assessment, a devastating indictment of the Khartoum regime’s relentless war on humanitarian relief efforts for the stricken populations of southern Sudan. Their broadest conclusion? “To empty the oil areas [the Government of Sudan] regularly bans aid flights to the oil areas, denying food and medicine to a people already in desperate need.”
Eric Reeves [March 21, 2001]
Smith College firstname.lastname@example.org
Northampton, MA 01063 413-585-3326
Not only has the brutal Khartoum regime engaged in a systematic policy of denying humanitarian relief to the peoples of the oil regions in southern Sudan, they have also directly, deliberately, and repeatedly attacked humanitarian relief efforts and personnel. It is a scandal that the United Nations and the international community have not held Khartoum accountable for this unsurpassable barbarism.
Christian Aid makes the telling point that, “while oil workers are permitted full and free access to Upper Nile [center of oil development in southern Sudan], relief workers are not. Oil companies trumpet their own small humanitarian initiatives—but say nothing about the government’s ban on much larger, potentially life-saving deliveries by Operation Lifeline Sudan.”
The rank hypocrisy of oil companies like Talisman Energy of Canada and Lundin of Sweden is perfectly clear. They deny knowledge of human displacement and destruction in their oil concessions; they offer a fig leaf of humanitarian gestures for public relations purposes; and then ignore the immense tragedy that unfolds all around them because of Khartoum’s denial of access to the large UN-sponsored consortium of professional aid organizations.
“As early as July 1999, the [UN’s] World Food program warned of a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ unless the government’s flight bans on Western Upper Nile were lifted. A year and a half later, most of those bans are still in place and others have been introduced.” This virtually insures that in the coming months many tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children will die because of oil development “security.” The condition of various populations in the region is extremely distressed; many populations simply cannot be reached, even for assessment purposes.
Comments from senior aid officials give some sense of how mercilessly cruel this flight ban on aid to the oil regions of Western Upper Nile has become:
[from a senior UNICEF staffer]
“These conditions [banning aid flights to Western Upper Nile] are crippling. They mean we have no emergency response capacity. The crisis has been building in Western Upper Nile since 1998. We should be rolling over locations all the time. Instead Operation Lifeline Sudan has no presence in Western Upper Nile.”
[from an official of Operation Lifeline Sudan]
“There is virtually nothing in the whole of Western Upper Nile. At the most basic level, there’s a vastly increased risk of disease among the displaced who are living rough and scratching around for food. UNICEF is supposed to be supplying medicines, but it isn’t—and there’s not a location in Western Upper Nile where we couldn’t have dropped medicines.”
And frighteningly, the conditions in Eastern Upper Nile—site of the Adar Yel oil project in which China National Petroleum Corp. is the dominant partner—are even worse. There is exceedingly little reporting out of the area, but all that appears suggests an almost total denial by Khartoum of humanitarian access. Christian Aid observes baldly: “In Eastern Upper Nile, the site of the Adar oilfield, the situation is even worse. Here there is virtually no relief.”
The view from the ground is summed up by Malong Kolang, a Nuer chief who spoke after having returned from escorting a group of displaced people to relative safety away their homes in the area south of Bentiu (in Concession Block 5a, where Lundin Oil is the dominant operating partner, but Petronas of Malaysia and OMV of Austria are also partners):
“Before oil, our region was peaceful. People were cultivating with their cattle. When the pumping began, the war began. Antonovs and helicopter gunships began attacking the villages—sometimes four times every day. All the farms have been destroyed. Everything around the oil fields has been destroyed. Oil has brought death.”
And oil has brought direct assaults on some of the worlds finest and most courageous humanitarian organizations, working within or beside Operation Lifeline Sudan to avert complete catastrophe in southern Sudan.
Last summer the Khartoum regime unleashed a massive aerial bombing campaign against such targets as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, the International Rescue Committee, and many others. The bombing attacks forced a suspension of all Operation Lifeline Sudan flights for a period of time.
Christian Aid adds significantly to this picture of merciless barbarism. Noting that the “government of Sudan has taken its war directly to relief agencies,” they remark also the “concentrated,” “systematic” and “sustained” nature of this “war.”
One example comes from their account of the May 2000 actions by government-backed forces against Mading (northeast of the town of Nasir in Eastern Upper Nile, and proximate to Adar Yel concession area being developed by China National Petroleum Corp.):
“Government-backed forces placed anti-personnel mines inside the compound of a NGO [nongovernemental aid organization], outside the primary health centre, and at a water point. Syringes and needles in the health centre were piled up and doused with fuel. All NGO compounds were looted. Seeds delivered by CARE the day before the attack were stolen. An Operation Lifeline Sudan security officer who visited Mading after the attack said the government forces were applying a policy of ‘trash and run.'”
In another example, Government of Sudan forces attacked more directly: “In October  a government militia moving south from the Adar [concession] area attacked two villages with NGO presence. In one village, Uleng, they sprayed the compound of the NGO—the International Rescue Committee—with machine gun and rocket fire, shouting: ‘We’re going to take UN workers!’ International Rescue Committee employees were not in their tents. Had they been, Operation Lifeline Sudan investigators said, they would have died. ‘We think we’re seeing the beginning of a policy to chase relief workers from the area.'”
The same is true for Western Upper Nile. Christian Aid quotes a spokesman for one of the humanitarian medical organizations active in the region:
“The government troops burnt everything on their way including the compound, the huts which made the clinics, the medical supplies we had brought in, and the huts in the villages nearby. This was undoubtedly because of our proximity to the oilfields. Since then we haven’t been able to go back to that place due to continued insecurity. There are no other agencies providing humanitarian assistance to one of the most vulnerable populations in south Sudan.”
These words has become the ominous motto of life in southern Sudan: “This was undoubtedly because of our proximity to the oilfields.”
In southern Sudan, such proximity is increasingly becoming a death warrant for the civilian populations, and the source of unacceptable risk for humanitarian relief organizations.
And yet the oil companies deny all of this. Indeed, in a grotesque act of self-justification for corporate greed, Talisman spokesmen Reg Manhas and Jacqueline Sheppard put themselves on the record as declaring that “Remaining in Sudan is the moral thing to do.” These same words were used by Talisman CEO Jim Buckee.
How can it be “moral” to be active in oil operations that produce massive and authoritatively documented scorched-earth warfare serving as “security” for those oil operations?
How can it be “moral” to be the business partner (quite literally) of a government that bombs humanitarian relief efforts and sends its troops and militias to attack relief sites from the ground?
How can it be “moral” to send all Sudanese oil revenues to the government that is orchestrating this genocidal destruction?
There are no answers to these questions; but posing them allows us to hear the beating of a ghastly corporate “heart of darkness,” echoing the savage cruelty that has haunted Africa for over a century.
[Part 2 of 3]