Foreign oil companies may have been complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by armed groups fighting over one of Sudan’s major oil blocks, said a coalition of European organizations in a report published yesterday.
According to the report, the decision by a group of foreign oil companies to exploit oil in Unity state in the South (in a concession area known as block 5A) spurred a violent war over control of the strategic land between 1997 and 2003. Armed groups affiliated with the Sudanese government and the South Sudan army were the main perpetrators of the violence, committing a range of atrocities including indiscriminant attacks on civilians, forced displacement, looting, rape, and torture, in the fight to control the oil fields. The report estimates that 12,000 people were killed and 160,000 people forced to flee as a result of the fighting.
The oil consortium—led by the Swedish oil company Lundin and including two oil companies from Malaysia and Austria—should have been aware of the consequences of their operations during an ongoing civil war, said the report, given that the Sudanese government had to seize and maintain control of the oil-rich lands so that the oil companies could operate securely. Communities already settled on the land, as well as dissident groups, were forced to vacate to make way for the companies.
“[T]hroughout the war the Consortium worked alongside the perpetrators of international crimes. Its infrastructure enabled the commission of crimes by others. Taking into account the overwhelming body of reporting at the time, the members of the Lundin Consortium should have been aware of the abuses committed by the armed groups that partly provided for their security needs. However, they continued to work with the Sudanese Government, its agencies and its army.”
The report calls for an investigation into the role of the oil consortium in the atrocities, accusing not only the companies of failing to guarantee the respect of human rights and international law, but the companies’ home governments for failing “in their international obligations to prevent human rights violations and international crimes.”
At almost 100 pages, the report provides a detailed accounting of the violence around Block 5A, including an annex listing each attack and its perpetrators over the six years of violence. Outside of its stated goal of seeking justice and compensation for the affected populations, the document is also a reminder of the atrocities that may once again befall communities in oil-rich areas if negotiations for a post-referendum oil-sharing agreement are unsuccessful between the North and the South—and violence over the precious resource breaks out once more.