SCORCHED-EARTH WARFARE AND OIL DEVELOPMENT “SECURITY” IN SOUTHERN SUDAN: A Compendium of Evidence
Despite overwhelming evidence in the form of testimony from eyewitnesses, extensive reporting directly from the oil regions by various sources, and detailed analyses that have entered the public domain, there are those who continue to deny the reality of scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions of southern Sudan. They persist in refusing to acknowledge that the Government of Sudan, in providing operational “security” for the foreign oil companies active in these regions, has created a cordon sanitaire by means of massive human destruction and displacement. It can only be said, given what is known, that their motives in such denial are thoroughly suspect.
Eric Reeves [March 7, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Apologists for the brutal regime in Khartoum, in various guises, continue to deny what has been made abundantly clear, often in painful detail, by: the UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan (Leonardo Franco and before him, Gaspar Biro); Amnesty International (“Sudan—The Human Price of Oil”; May 3, 2000); the report of the Harker mission for the Canadian Foreign Minister (January 2000); Sudan report from the US State Department (February 2001); Sudan reports from Human Rights Watch (December 2000 and March 2001); the UN Integrated Regional Information Network (February 2001); and reports from newspaper journalists reporting directly from the oil regions (including reporters for both The Globe & Mail and The National Post in Canada).
Herewith a compendium of excerpts from these critical, and fully public, sources.
(There, are of course, many other reporting sources on the ground in southern Sudan. But for a variety of reasons—including physical security and concern about the maintenance of humanitarian access—many prefer to report on a “not for attribution” basis. None is included here.)
UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan, Leonard Franco, on oil development in western Upper Nile:
excerpts from “Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan” (October 1999):
 “The economic, political and strategic implications of the oil issue have seriously compounded and exacerbated the conflict and led to a deterioration of the overall situation of human rights and the respect for humanitarian law, as well as further diminishing the already slim chances for peace.”
 “The oil issue and the extremely volatile situation prevailing in western Upper Nile are clearly at the core of the armed conflict in Sudan and have particularly dire consequences for peace.”
 [Reports available to the Special Rapporteur indicate that] “long-term efforts by the various Governments of Sudan to protect oil production have included a policy of forcible population displacement in order to clear oil-producing areas and the transportation routes of southern civilians.”
“Human rights observers on the spot were told by survivors of the Ruweng [county] offensive in May  that government bombers, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery were used against unarmed civilians to clear a 100-kilometer area around the oils fields. Witnesses reported that over 1,000 government soldiers swept through Ruweng county, wreaking human and material destruction, including destroying 17 churches.”
[The Special Rapporteur identifies Ruweng county as “a pocket of western Upper Nile bordering on Heglig”]
“As recently as May 1999, many villages on the eastern edge of Heglig were attacked and burned to the ground by the [Government of Sudan] army.”
 “Although the [Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company] concessions in Heglig and Unity are not in the midst of the fighting, most of the military action and increased human rights abuses in the oil-producing areas during 1998 and 1999 have been directly related to the struggle between the Government [of Sudan], working through proxy Nuer militia leader Paulino Matiep, and its southern ally the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF), political arm of the South Sudan Defense Forced (SSDF), headed by Dr. Riek Machar, also a Nuer, over which will provide security for the oil operations in Block 5a south of Bentiu. This is crucial since the [Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company] pipeline must be extended to that area in order for production to proceed.”
From the May 3, 2000 Report by Amnesty International
(“Sudan—The Human Price of Oil”)
 “By turning a blind eye, in the name of security, to the violations committed by government forces and troops allied to them, [the oil companies] indirectly contribute to violations continuing. The silence of powerful oil companies in the face of injustice and human rights violations cannot be seen as neutral.”
 “The civilian population living in oil fields and surrounding areas has been deliberately targeted for massive human rights abuses—forced displacement, aerial bombardments, strafing from helicopter gunships.”
 “A direct link between the nature of the war and guarantees for security for oil exploration by foreign oil companies became most obvious in intensified war in the beginning of 1999.”
 “There is a clear connection between the new-found oil wealth and the [Government of Sudan’s] ability to purchase arms.”
 “The oil companies involved in Sudan frequently assert that there are no settlements in the oil-rich areas and that allegation of mass displacement are therefore inaccurate. This is clearly not so.”
 “Tens of thousands of people have been terrorized into leaving their homes in Western Upper Nile since early 1999. Government forces have used ground attacks, helicopter gunship and indiscriminate high-altitude bombardment to clear the local population from oil-rich areas. This massive displacement of the local population followed the deployment of additional weaponry and forces specifically drafted in to protect the oilfields. The military tactics of the government’s security forces of destroying harvests, looting livestock and occupying the area is designed to prevent the return of the displaced population.”
“There have been reports that government troops cleared the area around the town of Bentiu using helicopter gunships, some allegedly piloted by Iraqi soldiers, and aerial cluster bombardment by high-altitude Antonov planes. In addition to the air attacks, government troops on the ground reportedly drove people out of their homes by committing gross human rights violations; male villagers were killed in mass executions; women and children were nailed to trees with iron spikes. There were reports from some villages, north and south of Bentiu, such as Guk and Rik, that soldiers slit the throats of children and killed male prisoners who had been interrogated by hammering nails into their foreheads. In Panyejier last July, people had been crushed by tanks and strafed by helicopter gunship.
 Villages north of Bentiu, such as Gumriak and Pariang, were cleared of civilians at the beginning of 1999. Among the villages most affected by the attacks and subsequent forced displacement since mid-1999 are Mankien, Langkien, Neny, Duar, Koch, Toic and Leer. In July 1999, the World Food Program (WFP) reported that tens of thousands of people who had fled their homes in June to seek safety were trapped in the oil-rich area of Western Upper Nile. At least 20,000 of the people reported missing in the areas of the oilfields by the WPF, have since been reported to be living in neighbouring counties; most made their way to Bahr al-Ghazal and the Lakes region around Yirol. There are several thousand families belonging to the Nuer ethnic group in Pagarau in the Yirol area and in Twic and Ruweng in the Bahr al-Ghazal area. In Makuac and Wuncuie alone there are more than 10,000 displaced Nuer from the oil areas.
In the area surrounding Bentiu the killing of hundreds of civilians, the destruction of hundreds of homesteads, and the displacement of thousands of people have been documented. The raids in Ruweng county, northeast of Bentiu in early 1999, left thousands of people without homes. Those raids were reportedly carried out by the government’s PDF and mujahedin forces. Southeast of Bentiu, thousands of people were displaced from villages around Koch and Leer by fighting between different Nuer factions. Some of the faction militias were supplied with arms and deployed by the
 A direct link between the nature of the war and guarantees for security for oil exploration by foreign oil companies became most obvious in intensified warfare in the beginning of 1999. Amnesty International has observed a pattern of gross human rights violations in those areas in which foreign oil companies have exploitation rights, both in those areas where companies are actively operating with staff and in those areas where companies have withdrawn, leaving assets but retaining their rights to oil production.
Amnesty International and other international observers, including
journalists, and international humanitarian relief agencies are denied
access to sites in the war zones where oil is produced. Nevertheless, over a period of the past year, Amnesty International has received numerous reports of massive forcible displacements of populations, testimonies about government security forces and government-allied troops carrying out aerial bombardments and strafing of villages from helicopter gunships. Amnesty International has thus documented a pattern of extrajudicial and indiscriminate killings, torture and rape — committed against people not taking active part in the hostilities.
Key conclusions of the report by the Harker assessment mission (“Human Security in Sudan: The Report of a Canadian Assessment Mission”); prepared for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ottawa, January 2000]
 “It is difficult to avoid [UN investigator] Leonardo Franco’s conclusion that a ‘swath of scorched earth/cleared territory’ is being created around the oil fields.” [page 11]
 “Displacement has gone on, and is still going on, and in Ruweng County [in Talisman’s oil concession area], it is hard to deny that displacement is now, and has been for some time, because of oil.” [page 11]
“The evidence we gathered, including the testimony of those directly involved, directs us to conclude that oil is exacerbating conflict in Sudan.” [page 14]
“The underlying reality is that there has been, and probably still is, major displacement of civilian populations related to oil extraction. Furthermore, oil has become a major focus of the fighting. Worse, the oil operations in Government of Sudan-controlled territory are used, even if to a limited extent, and possibly without the knowledge or approval of the oil companies, to directly support Government of Sudan military operations.” [page 15]
“The oil operations in which a Canadian company is involved add more suffering [to Sudan]”—a place “of extraordinary suffering and continuing human rights violations.” [page 15]
“It is difficult to imagine a cease-fire while oil extraction continues, and almost impossible to do so if revenues keep flowing to the Greater Nile partners and the Government of Sudan as currently arranged.” [page 16]
“Talisman Energy has yet to acknowledge that human rights violations which can be related to oil operations.” [page 17]
US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices (Sudan)—2000
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor—
“The Government and government-associated forces have implemented a scorched earth policy along parts of the oil pipeline and around some key oil facilities. These forces have injured persons seriously, destroyed villages, and driven out inhabitants in order to create an uninhabited security zone.”
Excerpts from the Human Rights Watch annual report on Sudan (December 2000); lead Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch is Jemera Rone, who has spent extensive time in southern Sudan researching the consequences of oil development:
“[T]he government stepped up its brutal expulsions of southern villagers from the oil production areas and trumpeted its resolve to use the oil income for more weapons. Under the leadership of President (Lt. Gen.) Omar El Bashir, the government intensified its bombing of civilian targets in the war, denied relief food to needy civilians, and abused children’s rights, particularly through its military and logistical support for the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which held an estimated 6,000 Ugandan children captive on government-controlled Sudanese territory.”
“Fighting spread further into the southern area of Western Upper Nile, inhabited mainly by the African Nuer. 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 U.N. 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.”
“The government announced that its new oil revenue, constituting 20 percent of its 2000 revenue, would be used for defense, including an arms factory near Khartoum. Defense spending in dollars increased 96 percent from 1998 to 2000. Not coincidentally, government use of air power and bombing increased.”
Excerpts from a Human Rights Watch letter/analysis on crisis in southern Sudan, March 1, 2001:
 “[Factional/tribal fighting] also exposes to danger of retaliation the tens of thousands of Nuer internally displaced persons who took refuge in Dinka areas…. These displaced Nuer were expelled from their homes by the Khartoum government in 1999-2000 to erect a cordon sanitaire for the oil companies.”
 “In Eastern Upper Nile, the Nuer government militias and [Government of] Sudan army are fighting against Riek Machar SPDF (Nuer) forces and the SPLA. Militia Cmdr. Gordon Kong of Nasir is active in trying to drive out these forces from areas adjacent to oilfields that are in development. In the process many civilians have been killed and forcibly displaced.”
 “As usual, a key actor in the current violence among southerners is the Khartoum government, which arms whichever factions and militias are fighting the SPLA. The Khartoum strategy of divide and destroy has worked extremely well in the past, keeping southerners split—Dinka from Nuer, and Nuer from Nuer…. By provoking divisions among Nuer and other southerners, Khartoum can develop the rich oil resources that lie beneath Nuer territory [largely south of Bentiu].”
“UN World Food Program Confirms Displacement In Oil Drilling Areas” [UN Integrated Regional Information Network (Nairobi)]
February 26, 2001
Posted to the web February 26, 2001
“Responding to a recent report by Reuters entitled “Sudan says oil
drilling causes no mass displacement”, WFP in Sudan on Thursday denied that it was unaware of forced displacements, as stated in the article. In a letter to Reuters, WFP Deputy Country Director Nicholas Siwingwa said that no comment had ever been made to that effect.
“Siwingwa added that WFP had witnessed an increasing number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) requiring food assistance in oil fields in the southern Unity state. Siwingwa put the current number of IDPs in the region at over 36,000 and added that oil interests in the area had exacerbated the uprooting of people from their homes.”
Charlie Gillis, The National Post, November 27, 1999:
[excerpt from an extensive three-part story, filed from the oil regions of southern Sudan]:
All of [these people] had been driven out of southern Sudan’s oilfields–“displaced” is the gentler word most often used—and had come to tell of the continuing assault on them by the government in Khartoum and its army.
“It may sound like a celebration,” said Ed Cornwell, a pastor from California who arranged the flight from Kenya through his relief organization, Safe Harbor. “But the strength these people show in the midst of poverty and illness is incredible…. This is their way of voicing protest.”
Indeed, the singers were only the strongest of some 2,000 ragged, starving and disease-stricken individuals who crowded into a makeshift airstrip in Biem, a desolate village where refugees from the oilfields have been congregating with the slim hope that the international community will come to their rescue.
Jim Buckee, president and chief executive of Talisman Energy Inc., the Calgary company at the heart of a controversy over the exploitation of Sudan’s southern oilfields, wrote to shareholders this week saying, “I would like to make it clear that Talisman is vehemently opposed to forced relocation for oil development and I personally believe such practices are abhorrent.”
But that vehement opposition has not produced any acknowledgement of atrocities that seem quite evident as soon as you have spent even a short time in this arid, fly-blown region.
Mr. Buckee dismissed a recent UN report about atrocities as “hearsay,” but here such claims are horribly plausible. The UN and other organizations also say Christians have been forced into slavery by the Muslim-led government.
The situation in Biem is appalling. Even veteran aid workers are shaken by the thinness and desperation of those who greeted them as they stepped off the plane in this village at the eastern end of the oil patch.
In interviews with the National Post on Thursday, migrant after migrant recalled arriving at this collection of shanties and huts after fleeing their villages to the north and west, which they said were being burned out by government troops to make way for the oil development. The attacks continued through the region’s dry season, they said, starting with the forced evacuation of Athonj and Gumriak, two villages within 37 kilometres of Talisman’s drilling rigs.
“Government officials came and told us, ‘We don’t want anybody here, this is not your place any more because we have business to do here,'” said Dhunya Chan, a 51-year-old farmer from Athonj, speaking through a translator. “We ignored them. We thought they were just talking. Three days later the army arrived and started dragging people out. They came on foot and with helicopters. My mother-in-law was killed before she could get out. Now we are here and we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Added William Abui, 30, who also lived in Athonj: “There are people still inside those communities who have not been allowed out…. Eight people were killed [in the October attack]. I can give you their names if you want.”
The result has been a ghastly scene in Biem, where treatable diseases are spreading among the refugees for lack of medicine to slow them.
On Thursday, at least a dozen families brought desperately ill relatives to the airfield in the hope that aid workers would agree to take them to a hospital, even though moving Sudanese nationals across the Kenyan border is illegal.
One girl stricken with tuberculosis collapsed in the grass beside the runway, while another fought off flies that were attracted by an infection in her mouth.
Others were so desperate and hungry they attempted to climb aboard the aircraft as it prepared for take-off, shouting bitterly at crew members who were prying their hands from the ladder and forcing the cabin door shut.
The refugees’ plight has been worsened by Khartoum’s refusal to allow UN planes to land on the strip. This means the migrants are cut off from Operation Lifeline Sudan, a co-operative of UN and non-governmental organizations that is the main source of relief in the country. Only a handful of Christian organizations have defied Khartoum’s direction and snuck food and clothing to the area under the protection of the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
From the Globe and Mail, December 17, 1999
[excerpt from report by Stephanie Nolen, filed from the oil regions of southern Sudan]
The SPLA says Talisman also has a more direct culpability in southern Sudan—for refugees who are targets because they lived in the oil concession area.
The SPLA says there are 100,000 displaced people; there are at least 10,000 accounted for in this region, and an indeterminate number more who have fled to UN camps outside Khartoum or further to the south—driven out of the oil area so that they cannot
provide cover for the rebels.
Talisman has insisted that no one had been displaced from the oil fields. And yet, in Mapeir and two towns nearby, three refugee camps house at least 10,000 people. They are Nuer, and say they have hiked for days through swamp from their land, the land where the oil wells are, because of bombs and raids.
“Our land is the oil fields,” said Michael Ray Diu, a Nuer chief who fled to Mapeir 18 months ago. Hundreds of members of his tribe are now with him in the camp. He was a gracious host, sending several young men to channel us across the water around his camp in a hollowed-out log, but he was also immensely angry.
“You must tell Canada that we cannot go to our homes, that our children cannot go to school, that Christmas is coming and how
will we have Christmas? It is you people of Canada who do this.”
Talisman also denies that there is slavery in Sudan—a statement contradicted by the reports of a dozen human-rights organizations, and the simple stories of thousands of Sudanese children. Go door to door among the tukuls in Tourelei: one in four households has lost at least one child.
Akuei Deng is one of the few who came home again. In May, 1996, when he was seven years old (he thinks), the muhrahalin, the raiders, went to his village on horses at dusk. His older brothers ran into the bush. His mother ran with his younger siblings in
But the raiders caught Akuei, too big to be carried, too small to run. With 250 others from his village, he was forced on a three-day march to a concentration camp at Schitep. He was kept there for three years.
What happened to him there? His small face takes on a hunted look. “You go to look after the cows and the goats. And you must be a Muslim.” Akuei had been baptized as a
What became of those who did not want to say the Muslim prayers? “They beat us. With a stick. And you were not allowed to eat. And those who refused to be Muslims were killed before our eyes — they shot them,” he said.
Damien Lewis, The Globe and Mail (Toronto) October 5, 1999: interviews conducted in the oil concession areas with people displaced from their homes:
“The reasons for the attacks are clear,” said Stephen Mabok, a
local commissioner. “They want to exploit the oil in this area
without fear of local resistance, so they are clearing the area
and removing all the people.”
One woman, wearing a soiled floral dress, just stared aimlessly
into the distance. Of nine people killed, one was her sister. As
she started talking, her anger, the unquenchable resistance of
the Southern Sudanese, flared. She spoke in staccato sentences,
jabbing the air with her finger.
“Many died in the attacks. Many more are now dying of starvation
and thirst. We know why they came to clear this area – because
they want the oil.” She all but shouted this last sentence. And
then, more subdued: “We need food, clothes, water, just basic
things to survive.”
“The government forces came first and attacked from the air,
using Antonov bombers,” said Mr Mabok. “Then came the
helicopter gunships. Then the enemy came on the ground and
attacked the villages, burning them and seizing women and
He listed the names of villages destroyed: “Alog village first, and
killed 11 people. Then Dir village and killed nine people. Then
Obanye and killed 19.” The list went on and on.
“The enemy came out from Pariang and burned the villages, but
we had managed to flee the area. I took my family to a safe area,
but now there is no food and they are starving. The food the UN
brings is not enough. Now they are living under the trees.”
Mr Manyiel shows us the village hospital. He worked here as a
medic. The four walls are still standing, but the windows are
scorched, blackened holes. Inside, knee-deep in ashes, remains
of a busy hospital are clearly visible – a discarded shoe here, a
broken water bottle there.
“Over all, it must be around 6,000 homes burned, yes, 6,000,” the
commissioner said. “And 16 churches. Including the food and
everything, it was all burned. People are now just living in the