This week, the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS) released a report investigating the role and possible complicity of international oil companies in the gross violations committed in Unity State over the period 1997-2003. The period under investigation witnessed fierce and vicious military confrontations between SAF and allied militias on one side and the SPLA and its allies on the other over the control of oil fields in which the civilian population was fodder and target. The area in question is Block 5A, at the time a concession of a consortium of oil companies led and operated by Lundin Oil AB (Sweden), and joining Petronas (Malaysia), OMV Exploration GmbH (Austria), and the Sudanese Sudapet.
ECOS, a network of European organisations involved in Sudan, suggests in the report that the oil companies may have provided government forces with direct material support, in addition to their knowledge of gross human rights violations and their complicit agreement to the forced displacement of the area’s inhabitants. According to the report oil exploration in Block 5A instigated 3 rounds of fighting: the first (1997-1999) between 2 government-allied groups, Riek Machar’s versus Paulino Matiep’s forces; the second (2000-2001) featured Riek Machar and Paulino Matiep in coalition versus the SPLA; and the third (2002-2003) involved Riek Machar and the SPLA versus Paulino Matiep and SAF. The strategy of the government, thinking in tandem with the oil companies, was to secure the oil fields through creation of depopulated buffer zones inside which no settlements and no economic activities would be allowed.
Satellite images commissioned by ECOS are attached to the report and demonstrate the extent of agricultural land use before, during, and after Lundin’s involvement. Apparently Lundin’s presence coincides with a considerable drop in land use in the area. ECOS is demanding a full investigation into the companies’ role and conduct, and compensation for the populations affected.
In fact, the CPA and the Interim Constitution provide for compensation on the basis of a legal process (CPA, §4), and thus claims can be made to that effect, at least from a formal point of view. The Interim Constitution also promises a ‘comprehensive process of national reconciliation’, a clause that many supplement with the demand of transitional justice measures including uncovering and investigation of atrocities committed during the course of the war. To the SPLM and the NCP an investigation of the war events, judicial or otherwise, is a Pandora’s Box that they would rather keep shut, or will simply force shut.
The twist is however, what would an investigation of the possible role of international NGOs in the war bring out?