There is a clear and deadly connection between oil development in Western Upper Nile Province in southern Sudan and the ongoing denial of humanitarian relief. Western Upper Nile is the area most directly affected by the massive oil development projects in which Talisman Energy (Canada), Petronas (Malaysia), China National Petroleum Corp., and Lundin Petroleum (Sweden) are operational partners with the Government of Sudan. International oil development has not only greatly intensified the fighting in Western Upper Nile, but it has made delivery of humanitarian aid exceedingly difficult, and in many places impossible. This is true both for the humanitarian organizations operating as part of the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), and for non-OLS organizations as well. Humanitarian access is denied explicitly by the Government of Sudan in many cases; in others, fighting directly linked to oil development prevents humanitarian relief.
Eric Reeves [December 20, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
The connection between oil development and intense, ongoing military fighting in Western Upper Nile—often taking the form of scorched-earth warfare on the part of Government of Sudan forces and their military proxies—has been fully, authoritatively, incontrovertibly established by numerous human rights reports and organizations. What has been less fully publicized (though several reports are explicit on the issue) is that the Government of Sudan has explicitly denied humanitarian access to many places in critical need in Western Upper Nile. These denials are typically part of Khartoum’s effort to manipulate humanitarian aid access for military purposes, serving the larger security needs of oil operations.
For many months now, the Government of Sudan has denied the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan access to: Ganyiel, Leer, Duar, Nhialdiu, Mankien, Toy, Gumriak, Bow, Beneshowa, Buoth, Wankai, Ninger and Nyal in Upper Nile. No matter what the human need, no matter what the willingness of the UN-sponsored organizations to operate at these sites, the Khartoum regime has decreed that no humanitarian access will be permitted. This is morally intolerable, and forces non-OLS organizations to make highly risky and clandestine flights in an effort to respond to overwhelming human need.
To be sure, the denial of humanitarian aid is not confined to Western Upper Nile and the oil regions. For example, in Eastern Equatoria the Khartoum regime denies all humanitarian relief flights to areas south of the line running from Yei to Juba to Torit to Kapoeta. There is no conceivable security reason for this denial of humanitarian flight access. Indeed, the denial makes humanitarian efforts even more dangerous, for humanitarian organizations are forced to travel by land in an area where the maniacal Lord’s Resistance Army is operating (the Lord’s Resistance Army is a once and future military proxy for Khartoum, and has been supplied with weapons and equipment by the regime). As a consequence, a number of aid workers have been killed (notably from Norwegian Church Aid and Catholic Relief Services, with a Catholic priest the latest victim).
But it is in Western Upper Nile that the terrible role of oil development in impeding and preventing humanitarian access is clearest. Though the UN for the most part has chosen not to make explicit the connections between oil development and denial of humanitarian aid, there is a clear syllogism: fighting in the region is linked by the UN to “insecurity”—“insecurity” that accounts for most of the inability of humanitarian organizations to gain access. But why is there fighting that creates such “insecurity”? The simple answer is that since the mid-1990’s, Western Upper Nile has come to be the central theater in Sudan’s unimaginably destructive civil conflict, and oil development—which began in earnest in 1997—is the reason.
Fortunately for the integrity of the UN, its Special Rapporteur for Sudan, Gerhart Baum, has very recently made a series of explicit statements on this subject in his lengthy report to the General Assembly (all citations come from Baum’s report of September 7, 2001: “Situation of human rights in the Sudan”):
“The Special Rapporteur noted that relevant sources agree that exploitation of the oil reserves has led to a worsening of the conflict, which has turned into a war for oil.”
“Oil exploitation has continued to have a negative impact on the human rights situation.” [Baum notes generally that, “The human rights situation in the Sudan has worsened further during the past months.”]
“[Oil companies] doing business in a war-torn country characterized by frequent humanitarian crises, mainly although not only related to the fighting in Upper Nile, featuring looting and destruction of crops and villages and generating displacement, will continue to face international criticism until military warfare ends.”
These conclusions have, of course, been authoritatively reached by every single credible human rights report to emerge from research into the situation in Western Upper Nile. Amnesty International (“Sudan: The Human Price of Oil,” May 2000); Christian Aid [UK] (“The Scorched Earth: Oil and War in Sudan,” March 2001); The Report of the Harker Assessment Mission (January 2000; commissioned by the Canadian foreign ministry); “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); annual reports from Human Rights Watch; and the reports by previous UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan (Gaspar Biro and Leonardo Franco).
These reports also—and in every case—note that aerial bombardment and helicopter gunship attacks by Khartoum are directed not only against civilian targets, but have also been directed against humanitarian relief efforts. This is yet another security concern (and not only in Western Upper Nile) that has very consequentially impeded humanitarian access. Indeed, in the summer of 2000 aerial attacks by the Khartoum regime on humanitarian targets became so intense that Operation Lifeline Sudan was forced to suspend all flights to all parts of Sudan. Targets in this campaign of aerial terror included Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee, and many other of the world’s finest humanitarian organizations.
The extent to which bombing has continued, indeed is escalating, is reflected in the fact that Special Rapporteur Baum devotes a full 20 paragraphs of his report to the General Assembly chronicling (and only partially) the bombing attacks by Khartoum’s military aircraft. According to the UN, there were almost 200 such attacks confirmed in the first seven months of 2001, compared with 65 for all of 1999. (This does not include countless helicopter gunship attacks, primarily in Western Upper Nile and Bahr el-Ghazal). Such bombing attacks serve no credible military; they are designed to destroy southern Sudan’s civil society and food economy. In this sense, the impeding and denial of humanitarian aid is entirely consistent with Khartoum’s war aims.
Oil development in Western Upper Nile is directly responsible for the attenuation and halting of a great deal of critical humanitarian relief to one of the most stricken populations in the world. Corporate complicity in this terrible reality is shared by Talisman Energy, Petronas, China National Petroleum Corp, Lundin Petroleum (and its Austrian partner, OMV)—and by the nations permitting their operation in Sudan. These companies not only depend upon massive scorched-earth warfare to secure their operations, they not only send all Sudanese oil revenues to the recalcitrant party in this devastating civil conflict (the Khartoum regime, which has publicly announced its military ambitions for these revenues), but their presence consequentially works to deny humanitarian relief from reaching populations desperately in need of food and medicine.
Seen in this shameful light, claims by Talisman Energy to be providing compensating social services as justification for their ongoing operations in Western Upper Nile are transparently nothing more than viciously disingenuous corporate propaganda. The same is true of Sweden’s Lundin Petroleum. They and their partners make all too clear that Africa’s “heart of darkness” is really to be found in places like Calgary and Stockholm.