What is the evidence against Talisman Energy in the class action lawsuit that it faces in United States District Court? How directly can Talisman be tied to the authoritatively established scorched-earth warfare in the Western Upper Nile/Southern Kordofan concession areas? The augmented complaint filed in US District Court this week reveals some of the extraordinarily damning evidence in the form of internal communications between security operations in Khartoum and Heglig (Talisman’s nerve center of operations). One document in particular reveals that because of Talisman’s request, “[Khartoum’s] armed forces will conduct cleaning up operations in all villages from Heglig to Pariang.” The date of the document is May 7, 1999—immediately prior to the terrible Ruweng County offensive reported in detail by the UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan and Canada’s Harker Report.
Eric Reeves [February 27, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
The complaint against Talisman in the United State District Court for the Southern District of New York (Civil Action No. 01 CV 998 [AGS]) is a chronicle of Talisman’s direct complicity in the oil-driven destruction of southern Sudan. Its 28 pages are a powerful and irrefutable indictment.
Nowhere in the text, however, is there more compelling evidence of Talisman’s direct complicity in crimes against humanity than in an internal document originating within the central office of Khartoum’s Petroleum Security office. The document is cited in Section 27 of the complaint:
“Defendants’ [Talisman Energy’s and the Government of Sudan’s] concerted actions are demonstrated, inter alia, by a communication dated May 7, 1999, from Petroleum Security’s central office in Khartoum to its office in Heglig. The directive, denominated as ‘very urgent’ states, in pertinent part:
‘In accordance with directives of His Excellency the Minister of Energy and Mining ***and fulfilling the request of the Canadian Company*** the armed forces will conduct cleaning up operations in all villages from Heglig to Pariang.’ [translation obtained by Plaintiffs’ counsel, emphasis added].”
Put starkly, the “Canadian Company—unambiguously Talisman Energy— made a request of the Khartoum regimes that resulted in a “cleaning up” of all villages from Heglig to Pariang.
What was the nature of this “cleaning up?” Two days after the date on the document (May 7, 1999) the infamous Ruweng County offensive began. This terrible episode in scorched-earth warfare has been chronicled in considerable detail by the Canadian assessment mission requested by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy (“Human Security in Sudan: The Report of a Canadian Assessment Mission”; prepared for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ottawa, January 2000). Herewith are some of the relevant findings of this report (also known as the Harker Report) on the Ruweng County offensive that the complaint reveals Talisman “requested”:
“On 9 May 1999, a new offensive was launched from Talodi in the Nuba Mountains and from Pariang, in which Antonovs and helicopter gunships supported troops using armoured personnel carriers. Roads built by the oil companies [Talisman and its Greater Nile partners] enabled these to reach their destinations more easily than before. Heavy bombing occurred near the Dir River where many of the Dinka habitually reside in the dry season.
“The attacks began within a day or two of major deliveries of food by the UN’s World Food Programme, and much of the foodstock was destroyed. The premises of a foreign NGO, Medair, were damaged and staff withdrawn. The village of Biem 1 was destroyed, and the burning of tukuls and the theft of cattle ranged as far as Padit. Biem 2was badly damaged.”
“One WFP official visited Gumriak in April, 1999 and again in July 1999, when he saw burnt tukuls where the freshly delivered food had been stored. Before the attack, 32,000 people had been on the food distribution list in the Biem area; at a food drop in November, 1999, less than 10,000 people were served; one informant told us he thought this might be because the people were too scared to come out of the swamps in July 1999, and many have now left the area altogether.
“Another humanitarian worker was in Gumriak, at the Medair compound, when the May attacks began. Before he was evacuated on May 12, 1999, he witnessed, and lived through, bombings and frequent runs by helicopter gunships. He was sure that many civilians died, though he could not give an estimate.”
“One humanitarian worker who made a number of trips to Gumriak between April and July, 1999 was convinced that the Government of Sudan just did not want the NGOs around, and this conviction hardened after he had taken off following one trip and a helicopter gunship appeared and attacked the location he had only just left.
“What he saw on these trips has made a strong impression, one of tukuls still burning, food stocks and seeds inside, huge numbers of tukuls destroyed, particularly along the road linking Tajeil, Gumriak, and Padit.”
“The [Ruweng County] offensive was characterized by bombing runs and helicopter gunships flying low enough to kill people, and make the survivors afraid to cultivate.”
“From April to July 1999 [from before to after the offensive], the decline in population in Ruweng County seems to have been in the order of 50%. Gumriak declined from 9,474 to 5,274, Mankwo from 20,572 to 9,438, Bomadol from 8,088 to 3,288.”
Talisman Energy, the “Canadian Company,” had its brutal “request” more than fully satisfied with the Ruweng County offensive of May 1999. The area from Heglig to Pariang was indeed “cleaned up”—a brutal process of “ethnic cleansing” that offered Talisman all the security it thought it might need.
But if justice is served, this unspeakably cruel and destructive request by the company will cost Talisman dearly. Indeed, Talisman management seems to be extremely vulnerable under various counts of international criminal law. Certainly the Ruweng County offensive they “requested” was marked by numerous clear violations of international law, the Geneva Conventions, and actions that must count as “crimes against humanity.”
Justice looks increasingly as though it will be served in the US judiciary, even as there can be no reparation—in any form—that can possibly be commensurate with the human destruction and suffering in which Talisman is so obviously and directly complicit.