The dynamics of news reporting, both in Canada and elsewhere, insure that even the most compelling humanitarian disaster will receive short shrift if it has neither large geopolitical implications nor dramatic telegenic images nor a decisive “peg” for a flashy new story. Thus the human catastrophe in southern Sudan’s oil regions, in which Canada’s Talisman Energy continues to play an immensely consequential part, receives almost no ongoing coverage in the Canadian news media. There are occasional pieces, and of course Talisman can hardly be mentioned without its “controversial Sudan holdings” also being noted. But as for rigorous, sustained attention to the massive human suffering and destruction within the oil regions of southern Sudan, there is nothing. Even so, the invisibility of this suffering and destruction can do nothing to diminish its human reality, and Talisman’s ongoing culpability. Nor can there be moral respite for those who continue to invest in Sudan’s agony by means of Talisman shareholding.
Eric Reeves [December 12, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Talisman management is, to be sure, well pleased by any attenuation of the media exposure that has helped to reveal their complicity in scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions, the use of their airstrips by Government of Sudan military aircraft for attacks on innocent civilians, and the massive increase in Khartoum’s military expenditures made possible by Talisman-generated oil revenues. Though Talisman share price has been acutely affected by their ongoing participation in the unspeakably brutal realities of oil development in southern Sudan, there remains in Calgary a lingering hope that the cloud of disgrace that has settled over them will lift sometime soon.
In large part this is a hope born of necessity and the difficult situation in which Talisman now finds itself. For they are clearly unable to find a buyer who will pay anything like what the company needs as a face-saving sale price; and they also confront a Khartoum regime that for reasons of self-interest is making the sale difficult, if not impossible. Talisman sees no alternative but to try to tough it out. They are, after all, producing about 50,000 barrels/day in southern Sudan, and the daily toll on civilian life is of no concern or hindrance. Indeed, Talisman is continuing to expand its activities, especially in Block 4 (reaching south and west from the Unity and Heglig fields that have already been ethnically cleansed).
But staying in Sudan is also costly. Talisman will have spent over C$500,000,000. on share buy-back by year’s end to stave off the consequences of the divestment campaign that has been so successfully directed against them (significantly, there are recent reports that dismayed Canadian institutional shareholders have started to get impatient with their investment plight). Talisman has paid some vast amount to PR specialists Hill & Knowlton for damage control, even as Talisman management has had to devote an inordinate amount of time to managing the fallout from their Sudan investment. And their stock is today trading at around C$55.—a truly dismal level, reflecting a “Sudan discount” of roughly 20% according to oil analysts.
And the price in corporate reputation is simply incalculable: Talisman will always by remembered as the Canadian corporation that obdurately remained complicit in genocidal destruction in Sudan, hoping that the world might somehow turn away. This opprobrium will deservedly be Talisman’s forever.
There are no new human rights reports on oil development on the immediate horizon; but the massive study from Human Right Watch will eventually be published, and will certainly stand as the definitive indictment of Talisman’s role in the oil-driven destruction of Sudan. For now, though, it is important to recall just how much first-rate human rights reporting has been done on the subject, and by a very wide range of reporting organizations: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid (UK), the past three UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan, the Harker Mission report commissioned by the Canadian Foreign Ministry, the Gagnon/Ryle report (Canada/UK), and others.
The uniformity of the conclusions is extraordinary: all reveal explicitly that scorched-earth warfare has served as the primary means of security for Talisman’s operations, infrastructure, and personnel; several reveal that Talisman’s airstrips have been used by Khartoum’s Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships for offensive missions against civilian targets in the oil regions; and all have noted the consequences of oil revenues for Khartoum’s military budget (which has more than doubled since oil came on line in August of 1999, and increased by perhaps ten-fold if measured in terms of purchasing power, as the Sudanese dinar has stabilized).
The most recent of these reports, and in many ways the most authoritative published to date, is “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)
Since the news media in Canada have come to see Sudan’s oil-driven destruction as “old news,” it’s perhaps warranted that the highlights of this very recent and extremely important report receive a brief reprise. For though unreported in any systematic or ongoing way by Canadian news media, the desperate human suffering and destruction reported by Gagnon and Ryle are ongoing, occurring day in and day out. The innocent men, women, and children of southern Sudan’s oil regions are in no way protected by their lack of newsworthiness.
Herewith some of the most salient conclusions of the Gagnon/Ryle report (October 2001:
 “[T]he investigators found that there was an increase in the number of recorded helicopter gunship attacks on settlements in or near [the oil development] area. Some of these gunships have operated from facilities built, maintained and used by the oil consortium [Talisman Energy, China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petronas, and Sudan’s Sudapet]. The attacks are part of what appears to be a renewed Government of Sudan strategy to displace indigenous non-Arab inhabitants from specific rural areas of the oil region in order to clear and secure territory for oil development.”
“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 new [Government of Sudan military] strategy in Western Upper Nile, this report suggests, is both more violent and more territorially focused, 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.”
“Defecting soldiers from the Government of Sudan’s military base at Heglig testified that they had been ordered to participate in ground attacks on non-government controlled settlements around Pariang (a government-controlled garrison town in the [oil] concession). This was part of an attempt to force the inhabitants out of the area. The soldiers said they had been instructed to kill civilians and any persons believed not to be loyal to the government. This, they stated, was for the purpose of securing the oil fields for development.”
 “In spite of claims to the contrary in oil company reports, this investigation, while unable to gain access to government-controlled areas of oil development and following numerous enquiries, is not aware of any evidence that significant economic or other benefits from oil development are accruing to indigenous communities in Western Upper Nile. There is no independent verification of claims that the Government of Sudan is using oil revenues to assist the civilian population in Talisman’s concession (or in Southern Sudan in general).”
 “OLS [Operation Lifeline Sudan] access to airstrips in rebel-controlled areas [of Western Upper Nile] has been progressively reduced by government flight denials and by the danger of aerial bombardment from government aircraft. In government-controlled areas (which are supplied by road from the North), access by displaced people to available food relief has also been limited: in April 2001, the United Nations’ World Food Program reported that malnutrition rates in government-controlled Bentiu town were among the highest in South Sudan [Bentiu is the epicenter of the oil regions of Western Upper Nile].”
“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).]
 “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.”
“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.”
 “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.”
 Summary assessment: “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.”
“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].”
For those who would defend Talisman’s presence in the oil regions of southern Sudan, these charges must all be of acute concern. For they are the same conclusions reached by one or more of the other reporting human rights organizations. And none of these damning charges has been refuted in any meaningful way by Talisman or its apologists. In the absence of such refutation, and in light of the massive confirmation received from other human rights assessments, the Gagnon/Ryle conclusions must be accepted as fully authoritative.