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Oil & Human Rights in Sudan

Until recently, accusations by human rights groups that the oil companies operating in Sudan have helped fuel Sudan's civil war went unheard. But as the national media and the U.S. government turned their attention toward the Sudanese genocide, foreign oil companies in Sudan have faced increasing international pressure to relocate their operations.

The search for oil in Sudan is not new. Neither is the bloodshed that has exacerbated the country's religious, ethnic, and social divisions. Sudan has been a country at war with itself since its creation in 1956, and sporadic wars for southern succession raged between the north and south during the 1960s. Since 1983 an estimated two million Sudanese, mostly indigenous Dinka and Nuer from the south, have been killed. International interest in Sudanese oil dates back to as early as the 1950s when oil companies from the United States and elsewhere sought to establish permanent pipelines and fields throughout Sudan. Chevron Corporation was the first oil company to establish permanent bases in Sudan's oilrich south. Then, in 1984, it withdrew as the war intensified and rebels killed three Chevron employees. The pipelines stood idle until the civil war subsided during the 1990s. Some of the largest oil companies in the world are now part of The Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium of oil companies operating in Sudan.

The Sudanese government, notorious for its human rights violations and abuses, has used money from oil to bolster its national army. Besides being responsible for most of the two million deaths since 1983 in Sudan's messy civil war, the national army has been condemned for its use of gang rape, torture, and forced enslavement. The government is currently estimated to take in one million dollars per day in oil concessions.

Human rights groups point out that the new oil discoveries have only increased the Sudanese government's determination to rid southern indigenous groups of their oil-rich lands. The mass deportation of Dinka and Nuer from the south into squatters' camps around northern cities has intensified in the past couple of years. More than 4.5 million Sudanese, mostly indigenous, have been internally displaced. "There is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth today," says Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Human rights groups across the globe have joined together to denounce oil corporations operating in Sudan. Some campaigns have targeted firms that invest in these companies. "Fidelity is a strong force for good in the Boston community, but its fund managers must not understand the awful consequences of their investment for communities in southern Sudan," said Dr. Charles Jacobs, president of The American Anti-Slavery Group, after a recent visit to Sudan. "I have just witnessed the horrors of Western oil investment and I again urge Fidelity to stay faithful to its basic principles of community and development." The U.S. government has also shown increased interest in Sudan's turmoil. On June 9, 2001, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly (422 to 2) to ban any oil companies that operate in Sudan from trading on the New York Stock Exchange. During the deliberations, several representatives condemned Sudan's government and its role in Sudan's genocide. "Slave raids by the armed forces of Sudan's Khartoum government are being used to gain control of southern oil fields," said Congressman Donald Payne, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "We will continue pressuring this government until the genocide is ended and there is a resolution of these crimes against humanity."

Three oil companies on U.S. exchanges would be affected: Talisman Energy of Canada, PetroChina (owned by the Chinese government), and Lundin Oil of Sweden. A removal from U.S. stock exchanges would damage any corporation's ability to operate, and would probably scare investors away. "I don't think anybody could afford not to have access to U.S. capital markets," says President Jim Buckhee of Talisman Energy. "A company our size or similar [needs] to maintain that access.'' But some worry that foreign companies not as tied to U.S. markets may continue where companies like Talisman left off. Reports indicate that PetroChina may try to buy Talisman's assets in Sudan. "We have had a number of people approach us about those assets," says Mr. Buckhee. "And those people are obviously people who are not really concerned about what the U.S. is doing."

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