Sudan: Oil Consortium Behind War Crimes

Source: IPS News

The entry of a Swedish-led oil consortium into southern Sudan in 1997 triggered civil war and crimes against humanity, claims a European coalition of aid agencies.

The European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS) has called on the Swedish, Austrian and Malaysian governments to investigate into the possible complicity of the consortium in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

When the Swedish company Lundin Oil formed a consortium with Petronas Carigali Overseas from Malaysia, OMV (Sudan) Exploration from Austria and Sudapet from Sudan in 1997, they signed a contract with Khartoum to drill for oil in Block 5A in Unity State, southern Sudan.

At this time, however, the area was not fully under government control. This set off a spiral of violence, according to a new report by ECOS, called ‘Unpaid Debt’, that covers the period until 2003.

Although the actual perpetrators were government forces and armed groups allied to government forces or their opponents, their purpose was to clear the ground for the oil companies.

“The oil exploration played a crucial role in the atrocities,” Egbert Wesselink, coordinator of ECOS, told IPS.

Based on comprehensive evidence, Wesselink’s report estimates that 12,000 people were killed or died from hunger or war-related diseases. Many were raped and tortured, half a million cattle was lost and almost 200,000 people were violently displaced.

“The companies should have been aware of the abuses, but they continued to work with the government and its army,’’ Wesselink said.

Wesselink now calls on the respective governments to investigate whether the companies were complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by others.

“We specifically bring this case to the Swedish and Austrian governments, as these have acknowledged their commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan,” said Wesselink. This agreement created the right to compensation for injustices resulting from oil exploitation. “This promise remains unfulfilled to date.”

“First they started with an aerial bombardment, which lasted several days,” recalled Rev. James Koung Ninrew, general secretary of the peace council in the region. The inhabitants of his town, Koch, in Unity State, died or fled. “Secondly, ground troops came to check the situation, killing the remaining population and setting the villages on fire. Finally they declared the area safe and the oil companies came in.”

The consortium was not directly involved in the atrocities, Ninrew explained to IPS.

“But it was the consortium that demanded a safe area for its operations,” Ninrew said. ”Moreover, without the contracts the government wouldn’t have had money to buy gunships and ammunition. As soon as the troops secured the area, they moved to the next, systematically, and the companies followed, until the whole area of Block 5A was brought under control. The companies could see the villages still burning.”

Throughout the war in Block 5A the consortium worked alongside the perpetrators of international crimes, the report states. Their infrastructure even enabled the commission of crimes. For example, an important bridge and a road expanded the geographic reach of armed groups and enabled year-round access to communities that were formerly isolated in this huge, swampy, flat area on the west bank of the White Nile.

Lundin Oil’s spokesperson was not available to IPS. However, in an open letter to shareholders, written this week, Ian Lundin, chairman of the board, writes that ECOS “reiterates inferences, insinuations and false allegiations based on partisan and misleading information which were refuted [years before].”

“Lundin contributed to peace and stability in the region”, and was “actively engaged with stakeholders,’’ the letter claims.

According to Wesselink, Lundin Oil made an extremely biased selection of stakeholders for their dialogue. “Their stakeholders consisted of two of the political leaders in the region. But when these leaders turned against the consortium, they chose other stakeholders’’.

The Swedish foreign affairs ministry has refused to react to the report. “We don’t comment on individual companies and we don’t investigate them,’’ spokeswoman Irena Busic told IPS. “The prosecutor will do that.”

The ministry is hiding behind the possibility of a criminal prosecution, holds Wesselink. “They miss our point. There are good reasons for criminal punishment, but that’s not our objective. That’s not what the people of southern Sudan are waiting for. We want the governments to ensure appropriate compensation for all persons whose rights have been violated, and the companies have to pay their fair share.”

ECOS estimates the necessary compensation at 300 million US dollars.

“The local people now are very bitter,” explained Ninrew. “They want the company to acknowledge they made mistakes. That also means compensation, to the people who suffered damages.”

“Lundin thinks this storm will go over,’’ Wesselink said. “We think this time it won’t.”