Yesterday’s vitally important human rights assessment of oil development in Sudan [“Report of an Investigation into Oil Development, Conflict and Displacement in Western Upper Nile, Sudan,” October 2001] stands as a definitive rebuttal of the oft-repeated claims by Talisman Energy that it is “constructively engaged” in this torn nation. Whether the issue is human rights, economic development, or humanitarian assistance, none of Talisman’s claims are borne out. On the contrary, Talisman’s preposterous public relations campaign is fully revealed as nothing but self-serving corporate propaganda. Talisman is callously working for its own narrow financial interests, and at the same time giving critical support to the extremist National Islamic Front regime.
Eric Reeves [October 17, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Dismayingly, Talisman’s disingenuous and prevaricating account of its presence in the oil regions of Southern Sudan seems of no real concern to the Government of Canada. The same is true of the Canadian press, judging by today’s tepid reporting on the most fearsome indictment yet of Canada’s largest independent oil and gas outfit. But the terrible realities of this definitive report by human rights researchers Georgette Gagnon and John Ryle (hereafter, “the Report”) simply cannot be ignored.
 On the issue of human rights in Southern Sudan: Human rights abuses define the Khartoum regime’s conduct of the war, and gross violations of human rights occur routinely within Talisman’s concession areas, and in the ongoing fighting by the Khartoum regime to expand Talisman’s “security” corridor:
“The investigation finds that oil development in Upper Nile has exacerbated civil conflict and assisted the war aims of the Government of Sudan, facilitating violations of human rights by government forces and government-backed forces. Talisman’s claim that it serves as a positive influence on the Government of Sudan and its policies is not supported by the findings of the investigation; the evidence suggests that the company has been unable to achieve such constructive engagement.”
“The new [Government of Sudan military] strategy in Western Upper Nile, this report suggests, is both more violent and more territorially focused [i.e., in the oil concessions], involving coordinated attacks on civilian settlements in which aerial bombardment and raids by helicopter gunships are followed by ground attacks from government-backed militias and government troops. These ground forces burn villages and crops, loot livestock and kill and abduct people—mainly women and children.”
These findings are supported by the most recent report (October 10, 2001) from the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Sudan, Gerhart Baum. He declared that the human rights situation in Sudan is “worsening,” and directly tied this deterioration to oil development.
 On the issue of humanitarian assistance: Talisman continues to tout its highly localized contributions in the form of modest medical facilities. But the Report notes that overall humanitarian conditions in the oil regions where Talisman operates have continued to deteriorate dramatically. The report highlights the ways in which the Government of Sudan, Talisman’s business partner, continues to deny UN humanitarian access to many tens of thousands of displaced persons in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile, many at risk of starving or dying of untreated disease:
“This situation with respect to physical access [for humanitarian aid] is not improving. A USAID Situation Report for Sudan (3 August 2001) notes that flight clearance denials by the Government of Sudan increased considerably in 2001. ‘At any given time,’ the report noted, ‘numerous locations may be closed by UN security and/or government denial of clearance for Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) relief flights.’ (‘There is significant humanitarian concern,’ the report continues, ‘that Government of Sudan flight denials are restricting OLS access to parts of Western Upper Nile, where population displacement around the oilfields is increasing.’)”
The Report goes on to note that over 200,000 people have been displaced in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile since Talisman entered in 1998. This number, though staggeringly large, is almost certainly a low estimate, given the information that has come from other reports and sources. It is certainly a very low estimate if we look at the consequences of oil-related human displacement in areas other than Western Upper Nile (e.g., Eastern Bahr el-Ghazal, Eastern Upper Nile).
Revealingly, Talisman has relentlessly denied that there has been any civilian displacement from the oil concession areas. In the words of the report, “Talisman refuses to accept that forced [civilian] displacement has been carried out to secure oil development. The company continues to maintain this position in view of overwhelming evidence of displacement and associated human rights violations connected to oil development that have been consistently documented by human rights organizations, United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights in Sudan, journalists, staff of aid agencies, and representatives of donor government.”
This forces the obvious conclusion: “Talisman’s claim to be raising human rights issues with the government is vitiated therefore by its refusal to even acknowledge the occurrence of the most fundamental of the many abuses of human rights in the area.” Talisman’s astonishing prevarication is the perfect measure of a corporate commitment to obscuring the truth about its operations in Southern Sudan.
In sum, even as Talisman’s presence continues to be the engine of massive human displacement, and even as humanitarian access to these displaced noncombatant men, women, and children diminishes, Talisman touts its humanitarian “contributions” in the form of facilities that can serve at most only hundreds. And those served are unlikely to be from the indigenous populations, which are rightly fearful of the attitudes of the government forces that provide security for all Talisman facilities:
“Reports from inhabitants of the [oil concession], persons displaced from the concession and aid workers indicate that these medical facilities and water wells are not necessarily accessible to the ordinary inhabitants of the area. They are, moreover, located in garrison towns, rather than in rural areas. In this sense, the facilities that Talisman has established function as a way station in forced migration from the economically productive rural areas, backing up the government’s military displacement campaign.”
Participating in oil development that has displaced more than 200,000 human beings, and has made adequate professional humanitarian relief unavailable to desperate civilians, Talisman chooses to point to the few dozens of hospital beds that will never be accessible to most who have been displaced. Given the well-documented humanitarian catastrophe in Talisman’s concession areas, the claim to “constructive engagement” on humanitarian issues is simply grotesque.
 Infrastructure development: Talisman’s claims about the effects of roads built, wells dug, and other infrastructure housekeeping are revealed in the Report as shameless corporate propaganda.
In fact, the most consequential construction projects are the airstrips built and maintained by Talisman and its Greater Nile partners. And these airstrips, the Report authoritatively establishes, are used for deadly helicopter gunship attacks on civilians:
“It is clear that the incidence of military usage of the Heglig airstrip [by helicopter gunships] has been considerably higher in 2000 than previously and that it has continued. The pattern of military usage is one of indiscriminate attacks by gunships on civilians in villages in non-government controlled areas in and around the concession.”
“This investigation has determined that at least two of the government’s helicopter gunships have been based at oil facilities in Heglig. This is the center of Talisman’s operations and the site of a government military
garrison. Soldiers who had defected from the Government of Sudan army base at Heglig on April 25, 2001, told the investigators that they were ordered to attack locations in the rural areas of Pariang by the operational
brigade commander at Heglig, a Lt. Colonel Haj, acting on a directive from Khartoum.”
The report then goes on to cite the account of a defecting government soldier, Mabek Chol, Padit (22 April 2001):
“We have been given orders to go and fight in Pariang. To take control of the villages and loot cows so the community surrenders themselves to them. There are two helicopter gunships. They are inside Heglig. They have been ordered to join the operation. And also Antonov are still bombing the area. They want to invade the area so it remains under their control then install oil wells around the area and establish military outposts.”
The Report also notes: “Eyewitnesses from three different locations in and adjacent to the concession at Biem/Padit, Buoth and Maper/Turalei in Tuic County stated that they were attacked by gunships in non-government controlled areas of the concession throughout 2000 and 2001. They identified flight patterns of the attacking helicopters that indicated the gunships came from and returned to Heglig and other oil facilities in the concession.”
And there is a great deal more reporting and evidence on this issue. The inescapable conclusion is that Talisman’s most consequential construction project in the oil concession areas directly contributes to immense human destruction and displacement. Despite Talisman’s claims about “constructive engagement,” the Report concludes that, “Talisman and its [Greater Nile] partners have been unable to effectively monitor military use of oil installations, or to influence the government’s conduct in this regard.”
 Economic “benefits” of oil development: How have oil revenues been used by the Khartoum regime? “It is clear that oil revenues received by the government are linked to increases in military expenditure. There is little evidence for increased expenditure on social services, but significant indications of an increase in defence spending.” In particular, the Report notes that oil revenues have permitted the construction (“with Chinese assistance”) of “three new factories for the manufacture of arms and ammunition near Khartoum.”
Tellingly, the Report concludes on this subject by noting that “the presence of Western oil companies in Sudan appears to have had no influence on the government to deliver on an earlier commitment to use oil revenues for social development.”
How is this “constructive engagement”? The Khartoum regime uses oil revenues to increase military spending/manufacturing capacity, thus making war more likely to continue, and does nothing to improve the social conditions that are so appalling in much of Sudan and nearly all of Southern Sudan. The Report offers a telling summary assessment:
“In the present circumstances, oil development and the associated presence of foreign oil companies in Sudan is damaging to the people of the oil areas. For their part, the companies effectively assist the Government of Sudan war effort, thus exacerbating the suffering of the inhabitants of the oil area and making the prospect of peace more unlikely.”
“In these circumstances, a company operating in the war zone of Sudan cannot be neutral. Every aspect of its operation benefits one side—the government side—-in a conflict where human rights violations are the norm. In these conditions, all aspects of oil development contribute to the worsening situation for the inhabitants of Upper Nile [Province].”
“Report of an Investigation into Oil Development, Conflict and Displacement in Western Upper Nile, Sudan,” October 2001, by Georgette Gagnon (Canada) and John Ryle (United Kingdom) was commissioned by Canadian and British non-governmental organizations, including the Canadian Auto Workers Union, Steelworkers Humanity Fund, The Simons Foundation, United Church of Canada Division of World Outreach, and World Vision Canada. It is available from this source in “PDF format”; the introduction is available as an attachable 12-page word document.
[Part 2 of 3; Part 1 available upon request]