The Gagnon/Ryle human rights assessment report on oil development in Sudan [“Report of an Investigation into Oil Development, Conflict and Displacement in Western Upper Nile, Sudan,” October 2001] is a brutally critical indictment of Talisman Energy’s presence in Southern Sudan, and the massive human destruction and suffering directly related to that presence. It rebuts definitively the oft-repeated claim by Talisman Energy that it is “constructively engaged” in this torn nation. It also does much to refute the lazy and expedient argument made by Talisman management, industry analysts, and many in the news media that an exit by Talisman would simply result in their being replaced by another company, putatively less concerned about human rights. An exit would change nothing, so the argument runs.
Eric Reeves [October 18, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
This argument is fatuous and ill-informed. It is also morally bankrupt.
 Consider the moral issues raised by Talisman’s continued presence. Even if we were to stipulate that the consequences of Talisman’s exiting Sudan would be minimal, what does it say that the Canadian government and many influential Canadians are willing to accept such direct complicity in the destruction of innocent men, women, and children? For as the Gagnon/Ryle report makes definitively clear, the link between oil development and massive human destruction is direct, ongoing, and intensifying. Would these same apologists for Talisman’s presence in Sudan accept a Canadian corporate presence in Iraq, in which Canadian expertise were put in service of developing chemical weapons? Would the argument still hold? — “If we weren’t here, the Chinese, or the Malaysians, or some other country would be.”
This is obviously absurd—but no more absurd than the justifications for Talisman’s presence in Sudan. Talisman’s oil-development activities are occasioning, and supplying revenues for, state-sponsored and -conducted domestic terrorism. Khartoum’s assaults on civilians and humanitarian relief in southern Sudan, with no military purpose, are clearly terrorist in nature—just as Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against the Kurds of his own country was an act of savage domestic terrorism.
And the argument cannot be made that Iraq is different because it is a state-sponsor of international terrorism. For so, too, is the Khartoum regime with which Talisman has chosen to partner. The evidence continues to mount, in dozens of investigative reports, that Khartoum still supports world terrorism in a variety of ways, including financially, by maintaining terrorist training camps in Sudan, and in using its diplomatic presence abroad to facilitate the movements of members of the al-Qaeda network. The National Post and Ottawa Citizen, to offer but one example, reported on September 28, 2001 that:
“Documents, filed in [Canadian] Federal Court, also claim the Sudanese [regime] agreed to arrange for diplomatic credentials for bin Laden followers, allowing them unfettered travel around the world. The alleged agreement was struck between bin Laden’s top aide, Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahri, and ‘Sudanese Islamic leaders,’ the Canadian Security Intelligence Service brief said.”
“Sudanese Islamic leaders” refers to the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum; this is what passes as the “Government” of Sudan. The Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahri is now widely known to be Osama bin Laden’s number two man in al-Qaeda.
In short, accepting Talisman’s presence in Sudan as somehow dictated by the supposed inconsequence of their exiting means accepting responsibility for what proceeds from that presence. And what proceeds are acts of domestic terrorism and destruction directly tied to oil development, as well as financial support for a regime that has massively increased its military expenditures with oil revenues in order to expand its self-declared “jihad” against the people of the south. And it continues to support international terrorism.
But beyond the moral argument, there are significant consequences to forcing Talisman from Sudan that are consistently overlooked by those analyzing the issue.
 The value of Talisman’s technical expertise to the Khartoum regime is considerable. Reports indicate that the oil drilling success rate of Talisman’s Canadian engineers is vastly superior to that of their Chinese and Malaysians counterparts. Stripped of Western expertise (for no Western oil company is even contemplating a purchase of Talisman’s 25% stake in the Greater Nile project), oil development would decelerate dramatically.
Indeed, the Gagnon/Ryle Report indicates that “if Talisman withdrew from the consortium, the shortfall in technical expertise would cause production to drop by 30 percent.” The Report declares it arguable that, “Talisman’s arrival in Sudan made oil production possible. The company’s access to significant levels of capital, its global experience and its mastery of advanced technologies of oil exploration and extraction were the key to the rapidity with which oil from the wells in Western Upper Nile came on stream.”
 The “moral cover” that Talisman provides, by virtue of implicitly representing an approved Canadian presence in Sudan, has been used relentlessly by Khartoum in sustaining foreign interest in oil development and in shielding itself from international criticism. Canada’s formerly enviable record as a defender of human rights is shamelessly adduced by spokesmen for the Khartoum regime. A couple of examples may suffice:
[a] “Minister of Energy and Mining Dr Awad Ahmad al-Jaz described the decision of the Canadian Talisman Company [sic] to continue its oil investment in Sudan as evidence on prevalence of security and appropriate investment climate in the country.”
[BBC Monitoring Service – United Kingdom, Mar 5, 2001:
Text of report in English by Sudanese News Agency (SUNA),
5 March, 2001]:
[b] Abdelbagi Kabir, deputy director of Sudan’s peace and humanitarian affairs department: “Investment by Talisman and others showed there was no truth to the idea that Sudan was a deeply divided state with fundamental internal problems.”
“We think this foreign investment could only be evidence of tranquillity and a prosperous atmosphere,” he said. “The Canadian investment in the southern part of country could only limit any reason for anyone to further the armed struggle because these oil revenues have been directed directly to the welfare of people in those areas.”
[From Reuters news wire, January 13, 2000]
These comments by deputy director Abdelbagi Kabir must be seen in the context of the findings of the Gagnon/Ryle Report:
“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.”
Talisman’s continued presence in the oil regions of southern Sudan allows for Khartoum to issue absurdly propagandistic accounts, bolstered only by the reality of Canadian corporate presence.
Canadians thus continue to be presented with the most exigent of moral questions: will a Canadian company be allowed to traduce Canadian national reputation? will a Canadian corporation be allowed to help sustain and exacerbate the world’s longest and most destructive civil conflict?
The question is squarely before Canadians, but particularly Talisman investors, news reporters, and those supposedly representative officials who have so far decided that there is nothing they can or wish to do by way of halting Talisman’s vicious complicity.
This complicity will not be described more authoritatively than by Gagnon and Ryle on the basis of their extensive on-the-ground research in the oil regions of southern Sudan, and the massive historical, ethnographic, and economic data they have so compellingly assembled. Their conclusions stand unchallenged:
“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 3 of 3; Parts 1 and 2 available upon request]