Western and Asian oil companies in Sudan: deliberately refusing to see the immensely destructive consequences of their presence.
The Christian Aid report of last week presents in painfully authoritative detail the scorched-earth warfare in southern Sudan associated with oil development. The report also gives a compelling account of how oil revenues sustain the Khartoum regime’s war effort against the peoples of the south. And finally, the report presents a picture of vicious corporate obduracy, disingenuousness, and hypocrisy about these terrible realities.
Eric Reeves [March 22, 2001
Northampton, MA 01063
The following summary assessment from the Christian Aid report is supported by extensive research conducted in the oil regions of southern Sudan. It is an extraordinarily damning indictment of the corporate presence of Talisman Energy of Canada, Lundin Oil of Sweden, Petronas of Malaysia, China National Petroleum Corporation, and other Western corporations:
“Oil is the justification for the government’s scorched earth strategy—the driving force behind the killings and displacements of tens of thousands of civilians. Not a single oil company has spoken out against this strategy. Oil companies have asked for protection by government forces directly implicated in human rights violations. Company infrastructure, including airstrips and roads, is used in the government’s military operations. Oil revenue is funding the expansion of the war.”
If the oil companies have not spoken out against the scorched-earth strategy that serves as their “security,” or the brutal use of revenues by the Khartoum regime, what have they said about oil development in southern Sudan?
Talisman Energy, the original target of a still-growing divestment campaign responding to company presence in Sudan, has been most forthcoming in pushing its public relations agenda. Their words have consequently become the benchmark of corporate hypocrisy and disingenuousness.
Talisman has provided a very modest amount of very local humanitarian aid in the Heglig area, northwest of Bentiu. This of course cannot begin to compensate for the vast areas around Heglig that been cleared by means of scorched-earth warfare. Here it must be borne in mind that these terrible realities have been documented not only by Christian Aid, but by Amnesty International, the Canadian assessment report of the Harker mission, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Special Rapporteurs (Dr. Leonardo Franco and Dr. Gaspar Biro). Revealingly, the latter have been dismissed by Jim Buckee, CEO of Talisman, as “hearsay.”
Citing Talisman’s very modest efforts, this same Mr. Buckee has told Talisman shareholders that, “projects funded by the oil project have brought hope and stability to the region.” It is difficult to imagine a more callous, disingenuous, and hypocritical comment. As Christian Aid and others have conclusively shown, huge swaths of Western Upper Nile province and southern Kordofan have been cleared of virtually all indigenous populations, often by the cruelest and most destructive means. And yet Mr. Buckee speaks of bringing “stability to the region.” This is the “stability” that follows from obliteration and extermination. He speaks of bringing “hope.” There is no “hope” for those who have lost all they possess—land, food, family, and future.
Christian Aid and others have repeatedly documented this massive human loss; Mr. Buckee turns his eyes away, refuses to look at these well-established realities, and instead speaks with obscene callousness of having brought “hope and stability” to the very region that has been destroyed for his company’s oil operations.
Such vicious disingenuousness must work well with at least some Talisman shareholders, because Mr. Buckee keeps offering it. In a recent letter to shareholders he declares, “in five years of operation, staff in the field have not seen any evidence of forced displacement or relocation in our area of operations.”
Why is it that the UN’s World Food Program has seen massive evidence of forced displacement? Why was it so easy for the Canadian Harker mission to find such evidence? Why does Christian Aid report, for many areas of Upper Nile Province, massive human displacement? Why is the same conclusion reached by the UN Special Rapporteurs, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and many other independent reporting agencies and news reporters?
Are we to believe that Talisman alone is right? That all these other sources are in error? Must we simply dismiss their claims to have found extensive evidence of human displacement, much of it directly associated with the activities of Talisman and its Greater Nile partners (Petronas and China National Petroleum Corp., and of course the Khartoum regime’s Sudapet)? This is unfathomable arrogance on Talisman’s part—arrogance proceeding from viciously stubborn greed.
How well does Talisman do its “research” on such consequential questions of human displacement? Citing the Canadian assessment report, Christian Aid gives a sample of the extraordinary weakness of Talisman’s attempts to establish that there has been no human displacement.
“The Harker commission interviewed the Talisman staff person assigned to conduct this investigation [into forced population displacement]. It found that no formal report of the investigation existed. Nor had the investigator visited Pariang or Bentiu, the centres of government [military] activity in 1999 and 2000.”
This isn’t an “investigation”; it is a willful and self-serving refusal to look at the ghastly realities that are a direct consequence of Talisman’s presence.
The Christian Aid cites further from the Canadian assessment report:
“A Talisman executive also initially denied any knowledge of the
destruction of el-Toor in the government offensive of 1999. After
investigating, he claimed that it was ‘merely an inter-tribal
problem.’ [The Canadian assessment report] concluded: ‘so much [for Talisman] seems to be explained as “merely an inter-tribal problem,” but displacement has gone on and is still going on, and in Ruweng county, it is hard to deny that [it] is because of oil.”
In this context, Christian Aid asks precisely the right question:
“What are Talisman’s sources of information? Although Talisman gives the impression that it enjoys freedom of movement and therefore has independent sources of information, [the Canadian assessment report] concluded that ‘the movements of Talisman staff are restricted by the government.’ Oil companies reportedly keep their contacts with the southern officials of Unity State to a minimum at the insistence of Khartoum, according to Taban Deng [former governor of the region].”
In a somewhat different vein, it is also worth nothing that Talisman has also tried to burnish its public image by having the Greater Nile project signing onto a human rights code and by hiring PriceWaterHouseCoopers to monitor Talisman’s compliance with Canadian Code of Business Ethics. Company spokesman Reg Manhas has been handed the duty of celebrating these apparent “commitments.” What Mr. Manhas does not note, as Christian Aid points out, is the critical proviso of the human rights “code”: “[The Greater Nile project’s] business must be conducted in line with its ‘contractual obligations.'” I.e., its contractual obligations to the Khartoum regime, which is orchestrating the very campaign of scorched-earth warfare which is at issue.
This insures the utter meaninglessness of Talisman’s commitments, for of course (as Manhas conveniently omits from his absurd celebration) the human rights document which Talisman has signed is not in any way binding on the Khartoum regime or its military proxies.
The hiring of PriceWaterhouseCoopers to “monitor” Talisman’s with the Canadian Code of Business Ethics is a nothing more than a public relations stunt. As Christian Aid observes:
“PriceWaterhouseCoopers’s audit is meant to monitor Talisman’s compliance with the Canadian Code of Business Ethics, a code that is value-laden but has no monitoring process or tangible indicators of success. PriceWaterhouseCoopers stresses that it is ‘not conducting an in-depth study either of the effects of Talisman’s presence in the Sudan or of the impact of oil production on the country.'”
In other words, the audit has nothing to do with the real issues of oil development in Sudan, and speaks to none of the concerns of those who look at the larger consequences for the people of the south. Nonetheless, Talisman can be expected to promote the release of this “audit” as somehow a vindication of their cruel complicity in human suffering and destruction.
Investors in Talisman Energy—as well as Lundin Oil of Sweden and China National Petroleum Corp.’s New York Stock Exchange surrogate, PetroChina—must accept responsibility for assessing such corporate public relations efforts, these self-interested attempts to change the subject from the oil-driven destruction of Sudan.
Christian Aid, along with the many other reporting sources, has made clear the terrible nature of this destruction. It is incumbent upon all who care about the future of southern Sudan to act upon these compelling indictments, and divest from their shareholdings in these companies.
[Part 3 of 3]