The report released yesterday by a Canadian/British human rights assessment mission recently in the oil regions of southern Sudan reveals, among other things, Canadian corporate complicity in war crimes and massive violations of international law and treaties to which Canada is a signatory. These treaties include: the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949; Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention Against Torture.
Canada may be a signatory to these landmark international treaties, but Foreign Minister John Manley refuses to end Talisman Energy’s ongoing complicity in clear violations of these fundamentally important benchmarks of international moral consensus. Tragically, Canada thus becomes responsible for undermining their credibility and power.
Eric Reeves [May 16, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Most people in Canada and other nations that value human rights and international treaty obligations will naturally assume that Canadian commitment in this realm of international obligation is unshakably strong. But Foreign Minister John Manley is demonstrating that Canadian commitment does not extend so far as to interfere with Canadian commercial activities. It seems not to matter that clear violations of these treaties, in which a Canadian corporation is equally clearly complicit, are occurring; Mr. Manley is content to proclaim impotence. But what, then, do these treaties mean to Canada?
In particular, Canadians must ask what it means for Canada to be a signatory to Common Article 1 of the Four Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949: “The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.” Does this commitment obtain in Sudan? Is Canada doing anything to insure respect for the Geneva Conventions in this brutally torn land.
For example—and there are all too many examples—Article 13(2) of Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 prohibits:
“making civilians as such the object of attack; and act or threats of violence, the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population.”
But this describes precisely what the Gagnon/Ryle mission found in Talisman Energy’s oil concession areas. They found that Government of Sudan helicopter gunships, using Talisman’s airstrips, were deliberately attacking civilians. They also found, along with every other credible reporting body, that a primary purpose was indeed to “spread terror among the civilians” living in the concession areas, with the larger goal of clearing the oil regions of these unwanted populations.
These attacks clearly violate a fundamental international treaty to which Canada is a signatory, even as Canadian corporate complicity is made equally clear by Gagnon and Ryle. The same complicity was revealed in a report from Canada’s Khartoum-based political officer in February of this year, and by the Harker Report: “[H]elicopter gunships and Antonov bombers of the Government of Sudan […] have armed and re-fueled at Heglig and from there attacked civilians. This is totally incontrovertible” [page 65 of the Harker Assessment Report].
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 requires that:
“persons taking no active part in the hostilitiesshall in all circumstances be treated humanely.”
Helicopter gunship attacks from Talisman’s Heglig and Unity airstrips have been clearly, decisively implicated in attacks on unarmed noncombatant civilians that have entailed the aerial strafing of fleeing women and children; the strafing of cattle, villages, and agriculture; the transport of troops to commit mass executions, the torching of villages and tukuls, the torture and mutilation of noncombatant civilians.
This is not “humane” treatment; indeed, in their ferocious savagery, these attacks are as inhumane as warfare can become. And yet despite these clearly established violations of international treaties, violations in which a Canadian corporation is clearly complicit, the Government of Canada does nothing.
Article 14 of Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 declares that:
“Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited. It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless, for that purpose, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water.”
But yet again, such destruction of foodstuffs, livestock, and crops is precisely the mission of many helicopter gunship attacks making use of Talisman Energy facilities. These missions have been documented not only by the Gagnon/Ryle mission, but every other credible reporting body that has acquired first-hand evidence from Talisman Energy’s oil concession areas.
What does Mr. Manley think is entailed in being a signatory to such treaties? What does Mr. Manley think it meant for Canada to have solemnly “undertake[n] to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances” [Common Article 1 of the Four Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949]? Does Mr. Manley not see that it is both morally and legally incumbent upon him to halt the Canadian role in atrocities directed against civilians? Will he instead continue merely to proclaim that he is unable to invoke the Special Economic Measures Act to restrain Talisman—and remain silent about some of Canada’s most important obligations under international law and treaty?
If Talisman’s corporate inviolability is more important to Mr. Manley than such consequential international obligations, Canada has drifted into a shameful state of moral sloth.
The Harker Report (Ottawa, January 2000) commissioned by former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy has a seventeen-page appendix summarizing relevant international treaties, and their implications for the findings of the Harker assessment mission. These may be accessed at:
The report by Amnesty International (“Sudan: The Human Price of Oil,” London, May 3, 2000) also speaks to many of these issues of international human rights obligations. It may be accessed at: