The nexus between oil development and massive human destruction
in southern Sudan has not only been authoritatively established by every credible human rights organization and assessment mission to have studied the issue, it has now been documented from within Khartoum’s own oil security operations. The Financial Times (London) reports (March 22) on an explosive document contained in a class action lawsuit filed against Talisman Energy (US District Court, Southern District of New York). The FT reports that the internal document was “labelled ‘secret’ and ‘very urgent.'” The FT further reports that “the message, sent from Khartoum to ‘Petroleum Security Heglig,’ ordered various military actions to be carried out in the region ‘in accordance with the directive of the minister of energy and mines and fulfilling the request of the Canadian company.'” The “Canadian company” is, of course, Talisman Energy—with headquarters at this same Heglig.
Eric Reeves [March 24, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
Talisman Energy—according to the document (dated May 7, 1999) obtained by the Financial Times—requested that military “cleansing” operations begin “urgently” in Unity State, the area of Talisman’s concessions and oil operations. As a result of Talisman’s request, the Petroleum Security forces (which are under the jurisdiction of Khartoum’s energy ministry) ordered that to “‘ensure the security and wellbeing of employees and company property,’ the army would undertake cleaning up operations in every village from Heglig to Pariang. It further said that ‘it has been decided to eliminate Heglig village and the Unity state in Toor,’ both in the vicinity of the oil fields” (Financial Times, March 22, 2002).
Two days after the date of this directive, May 9, 1999, Khartoum’s infamous Ruweng County offensive began. This ghastly episode in scorched-earth warfare saw not only the destruction of Toor but scores of others villages and an overall decline of 50% in the population of Ruweng County, according to the Harker Report commissioned by the Canadian foreign ministry (Ottawa, January 2000). The “cleansing” operation was characterized by aerial bombings and helicopter gunship attacks on noncombatant civilians, armored columns burning villages, destroying foodstuffs, looting cattle—and a general destruction of all that might sustain human life in the vicinity of Talisman’s operations.
In short, Talisman’s “request” resulted in the death and displacement of many tens of thousands of innocent human beings in this terrible campaign in the spring of 1999.
Predictably, Talisman management has again recently declared that there is no evidence of human displacement, a judgment based on what the company declares to be its superior research on the issue (Bloomberg Newswire, March 5, 2002). This is, of course, nothing but self-serving mendacity. The campaign of human destruction and displacement reported on by the Harker Report (as well as by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid [UK], the Gagnon/Ryle report [October 2001], and many others) continues to this very day in various parts of Talisman’s concessions and other oil-rich areas in southern Sudan.
In a just-released report, the present UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan (Gerhart Baum) reports in excruciatingly familiar detail on the continuing consequences of oil development and attendant human death and displacement:
“oil exploitation continued to cause widespread displacement and access to the area remains extremely difficult since access to most of the airstrips is denied [by Khartoum]” (Executive Summary, “Situation of human rights in the Sudan,” Report of the Special Rapporteur, Gerhart Baum, 23 January, 2002)
“the Special Rapporteur has continued to focus on the human rights-related, economic, political and strategic implications of oil exploitation in oil-rich Unity State, supporting the views of those who believe that oil has seriously exacerbated the conflict while deteriorating the overall situation of human rights.” (Paragraph 50)
“the Special Rapporteur continued to receive information whereby oil exploitation is continuing to cause widespread displacement.” (Paragraph 51)
“Reports also pointed to bombings by Antonov planes, often followed by attacks by helicopter gunships aimed at clearing the land around the oilfields.” (Paragraph 57)
In the context of this latter observation by the Special Rapporteur, it is important to recall the already infamous attack on Bieh in the oil concession area south of Bentiu. There two helicopter gunships were deployed to attack innocent women and children receiving food from a UN World Food Program distribution effort (the humanitarian operation had been cleared with Khartoum, and there was no military opposition anywhere near Bieh).
UN eyewitnesses report that one of the low-hovering helicopter gunships poured rockets and heavy machine-gun fire into the thousands of people who had gathered and into the tukuls in which they sought to hide. No precise numbers for those killed and wounded is possible, since the WFP had to abandon the site. Later reports suggest that more than 50 died, many times that were wounded, and many, many more will likely die for lack of humanitarian access.
There have been countless “Biehs” in recent years, though rarely so authoritatively witnessed or well publicized. Khartoum’s recently increased restrictions on humanitarian aid access (and thus internationally credible eyewitnesses) have been all too predictable.
It is in this context of Khartoum’s continuing war against civilians in the oil regions that the distinguished Human Rights Watch recently called on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to “renew and extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for human rights in Sudan, and for the establishment of monitoring field offices in the country, in the context of what [Human Rights Watch] described as a worsening of human rights in Sudan in many respects” (UN Integrated Regional Information Network [IRIN], March 20, 2002).
Human Rights Watch reported that in the southern oil fields, Khartoum’s “militias and army forcibly displaced thousands of residents; continued to starve, abduct, rape and kill civilians; and continued to burn and bomb villages, churches, hospitals and schools” (IRIN, Mar 20, 2002).
Human Rights Watch also reported that “Government use of new, heavier arms, including surface-to-surface missiles and helicopter gunships, took a toll on the civilian population” (IRIN, Mar 20, 2002). Such new and more potent arms have, of course, been purchased with oil revenues.
Oil companies operating in southern Sudan have come to rely upon the repetitiveness of such reports on their brutally rapacious activities. The calculation of people like Talisman CEO Jim Buckee is that the world will simply not care enough, for long enough, to see that what is being “repeated” is the deliberate destruction and displacement of Nuer and Dinka people who have the misfortune of living in or near oil concession areas. Aggregated, these “repetitions” constitute what must now be called genocide—the deliberate destruction of these peoples because of who they are: non-Arabized, non-Islamicized human obstacles to further oil development.
The National Islamic Front regime that is responsible for, and profits from, this genocidal destruction must be forcefully pressured by the international community. In the absence of such pressure, the genocide will continue. Oil companies that choose to profit amidst this most vicious form of human destruction should also be pressured in all possible ways, including divestment, boycott, and—in the US—by means of a Sudan Peace Act that contains provisions for capital market sanctions, which would strip Talisman Energy and China National Petroleum Corp/PetroChina of their New York Stock Exchange listings.
So long as oil revenues fund Khartoum’s war machine, and so long as oil revenues are derived only by means of ongoing genocidal destruction, oil development in Sudan should be regarded as morally indefensible on any terms. Those who acquiesce, through investment or policy inaction, in the face of such indisputable realities are now themselves complicitous.