by Rhodri C. Williams
A recent report by the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS) has generated considerable debate in Europe, including Sweden, where reports on a local oil company’s possible complicity in atrocities has become an issue in upcoming elections and provided a slightly grim counterpoint to the glitz of the recent royal wedding. The report is entitled “Unpaid Debt: The Legacy of Lundin, Petronas and OMV in Sudan, 1997-2003” and can be accessed here.
As I’ve been meaning to bring in some local stories and have established contact with a number of interesting humanitarian and human rights actors in my adopted home, I thought I would let one of the involved parties – Åsa Henriksson of the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation – tell the story:
The coalition European Coalition on Oil in Sudan, ECOS, was approached in November 2006 by a group of Sudanese civil society organisations to assist in safeguarding Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement by working for compensation and reparation for the injustices caused by Sudan’s oil wars.
Last Tuesday, 8 June, the results were finally published in the report “Unpaid Debt – The Legacy of Lundin, Petronas and OMV in Block 5A, Sudan 1997 – 2003”, stating the involvement of these international oil companies in the area contributed to the death of thousands of people and violent displacement of almost 200,000 others between 1997 and 2003 in Block 5A. The matter of Lundin Petroleum AB (“Lundin”) and South Sudan has been in the Swedish news on several past occasions since the current Foreign Minister in Sweden, Carl Bildt, at the time was a board member of Lundin.
This time, however, the evidence of abuses related to the concessions are stronger. The new evidence presented in the report are satellite images showing changes in farming pattern in Block 5A, indicating that people stopped farming in certain areas at the time when the concessions started and a new road was constructed. The Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who has been very reluctant to talk about the matter, now states he is welcoming a full investigation.
ECOS does not deny that the actual perpetrators of the reported crimes were the armed forces of the Government of Sudan and a variety of local armed groups, but the evidence presented in the report supports the assertion that international oil companies as a matter of international law may have been complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in South Sudan.
Among other recommendations ECOS calls for the Governments of Sweden, Austria, and Malaysia to ensure appropriate compensation for all persons whose rights have been violated in the course of the war for control over Sudan’s oil fields. According to the findings, these governments failed to act although they received credible indications that decisions made by companies in their territories allegedly exacerbated war and contributed to violations of human rights and the commission of international crimes in Sudan.
The responses from the companies have been scarce but clear – Lundin states that they did not in any way violate international law. Petronas Carigali Overseas Sdn Bhd and OMV AG have chosen not to communicate directly with ECOS and have not formally commented on the report. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs received a delegation from ECOS in 2008, but declined to comment on a non-published document.
As reported here in the Local, an English language news source on Sweden, the country’s international prosecutor has now opened an investigation into the board members of Lundin at the time, including Foreign Minister Bildt. The alacrity with which the prosecutor has moved is impressive, but it will be interesting to follow the extent to which the central goal of the current ECOS report – reparations for victims – will be treated as a priority. It may be legitimately necessary under Swedish law to establish criminal responsibility as a precondition to ordering compensation, but it is to be hoped that the former process does not ultimately become a distraction from the latter.
The Swedish Fellowship for Reconciliation promotes nonviolent conflict resolution and is part of an impressive Swedish tradition of ecumenical humanitarian work. Among other things, the Fellowship sponsors human rights accompaniment in places such as Guatemala and Colombia where land conflicts are hardly unheard of. Hopefully more to come…