The most recent findings by the newest UN Special Rapporteur again highlight the immensely destructive role of oil development in southern Sudan. And they put yet again the most urgent moral question before Canadians: will Talisman Energy be permitted to continue oil operations in Sudan, operations entailing massive scorched-earth warfare? operations which provide a revenue stream to the Khartoum regime which is responsible for this unrivalled savagery?
Eric Reeves [March 30, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Minister of Foreign Affairs John Manley evidently wants the “Talisman problem” simply to go away. He has adopted a “hands off” policy, preserving a status quo that has allowed him to dodge responsibility for answering the most basic of questions about oil development in Sudan: will the government he represents allow Canadian corporate presence to exacerbate immeasurable human suffering and destruction?
But the latest account by UN Special Rapporteur Gerhart Baum makes clear just how appalling the status quo is. Reported by Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and others, this account joins and confirms the work of predecessor UN Rapporteurs for Sudan (Leonardo Franco and Gaspar Biro), as well as the authoritative reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Canadian assessment mission led by John Harker, and the British humanitarian organization Christian Aid. Baum’s report declares in painfully familiar terms that:
“The search for oil is leading to serious violations of human rights
for people in Sudan.” (AP, March 29, 2001)
“‘The government is resorting to forced relocation of the local population. Sometimes there is the destruction of villages and the
depopulation of the area. That is the concern we have,’ said Gerhart Baum, the UN expert on rights in Sudan.” (AP, March 29, 2001)
“‘Oil exploitation also attracts fighting,’ Baum, a German, told the 53-nation UN Human Rights Commission.” (AP, March 29, 2001)
“Gerhart Baum, who took up the independent post three months ago and visited Sudan from March 9 to 17, accused the Islamist
government of bombing civilians in the rebellious south and forcibly uprooting local populations to allow oil exploitation.” (Reuters, March 29, 2001)
“‘During my visit I gathered further evidence that oil exploitation leads to an exacerbation of the conflict with serious consequences on civilians,’ Baum told the main UN rights body, holding its annual six-week session in Geneva.” (Reuters, March 29, 2001)
“‘I received information whereby the government is resorting to forced eviction of local population and destruction of villages to depopulate areas and allow for oil operations to proceed unimpeded,’ he said.” (Reuters, March 29, 2001)
“Baum said he had received information that the authorities were resorting to the forced eviction of people and destruction of
villages to depopulate areas.” (Agence France-Presse, March 29, 2001)
Will Canadians accept these brutal realities and their own corporate complicity in the form of Talisman Energy? Do Canadians find it a sufficient answer to the moral question at issue to declare that, “if Talisman leaves, someone else will take their place”? No doubt, in some sense or capacity, someone will take Talisman’s place if they withdraw from Sudan. But this will be “someone” without Talisman’s technical expertise, capital resources, and ability to give moral cover to the Khartoum regime in its efforts to expand oil development in other concession areas.
Most significantly, if Talisman is forced to withdraw or suspend its activities, Canada will no longer bear responsibility for the immense human suffering and destruction now indisputably and directly associated with oil development in Sudan. Is this responsibility a matter of indifference to Canadians? If there are profits to be extracted from the blood and mire of southern Sudan, can Canadians accept with equanimity the proposition that they may as well go to a Canadian corporation as someone else? Does Sudan’s agony have no bearing on how Canadians see the implications of Talisman’s ghastly bottom-line growth from their operations in this tortured land?
Minister Manley presently seems uninterested in confronting such questions. Canadians and Members of Parliament must ask if this lack of interest reflects the moral will of Canada. The most recent UN report on the consequences of oil development in Sudan should be the occasion for a real political decision, not further silence. It is all too clear that without the Minister’s calling for a withdrawal by Talisman and its Greater Nile partners—or a suspension of activities pending a just peace—Canada will become even more fully defined by its role in sustaining and exacerbating war in Sudan.
Canadians must decide whether this is a truth they can live with.