Sweden Runs Into South Sudanese Oilgate
By Jared Ferrie
JUBA, Nov 29 (IPS) - Civil society leaders in South Sudan are closely
watching a legal battle unfolding in Sweden, as prosecutors investigate an
oil company accused of involvement in massive human rights abuses here.
James Ninrew vividly remembers the day Sudan's military attacked his
community, which had the misfortune of living above vast oil reserves
consigned to a consortium led by the Swedish oil giant, Lundin Oil.
"They used helicopter gunships to bomb houses," the reverend and civil
society leader recalled of the January 2000 attack, in Koch, Unity state. An
elderly man and his wife were killed in the attack. "When the houses were on
fire, the helicopter gunship landed and the soldiers came out and shot these
Such accusations form part of the basis of a report that has recently
prompted Sweden's public prosecutor, Magnus Elving, to launch an
investigation that could lead to a criminal case against Lundin Oil.
The 2010 report by the
22http:/www.ecosonline.org/%22> European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS)
alleges that Lundin may be culpable for atrocities committed against
civilians by military and militia forces in areas where it operated. Lundin
headed a consortium that included Malaysian, Sudanese and Austrian
companies, which signed an oil contract with the government in 1997.
"The start of
exploitation set off a vicious war in the area," according to the report,
which says almost 200,000 people were forced from their land and thousands
were killed, while other crimes included arson, looting, rape and torture.
"The forced displacement was motivated by the desire to secure oil fields
for the purpose of exploitation," said ECOS. The report called on Sweden,
Austria and Malaysia to investigate whether the companies "may have been
complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity."
Although Elving has not named Lundin as the subject of his investigation, he
has stated publicly that it was prompted by the ECOS report. Prosecutors
have begun interviewing 40 people who have not been named.
At the time of the alleged crimes, Lundin's board of directors included
Sweden's current foreign minister, Carl Bildt. Elving has told Swedish media
that Bildt is not among the 40, but refused to comment on whether he could
be questioned later in the investigation.
Lundin has repeatedly rejected allegations made by ECOS. "There is no new
evidence in this report; it essentially reiterates inferences, insinuations
and false allegations based on partisan and misleading information," Ian
Lundin, chair of the board of directors wrote in a letter to shareholders
after the release of the report.
In 2003, Lundin commissioned a paper to refute allegations that it had been
involved in human rights abuses.
The paper pointed out that Lundin consulted community leaders as well as
local and central government officials before undertaking operations. The
company determined that an oil industry would be of benefit to local
communities, and it spent 1.7 million dollars in three years on development
Kathelijne Schenkel of ECOS said in an interview that most of those
consulted by Lundin were in fact "important military-political leaders in
the area who at the time were allies of the Government in Khartoum." She
called the 1.7 million dollars Lundin spent on development a "ridiculous
sum" compared to the damages it brought to the area.
"Lundin sold its stake in 2003 at 142.5 million dollars, cashing in on a 100
million dollars net profit," said Schenkel.
Lundin has argued that it operated under the assumption that oil wealth
could help bring peace to a country that was in the midst of a two-decade
civil war, which ended in 2005 and led to South Sudan declaring independence
this past July.
"During the period in which the company was active in Sudan, it operated in
the belief that oil could benefit the economic development of the area and
the country as a whole, and that this would have a catalysing effect on the
peace process," wrote Christine Batruch in the 2003 paper produced by
ECOS rejected the argument that the company could have been ignorant of the
massive human rights abuses that accompanied that start of oil operations.
The report points out that Lundin had been involved in the oil business in
Sudan for six years before it signed a deal with the government to explore
the area known as Block 5A. By that time the government had a brutal
reputation for targeting civilians "as a means of warfare and to secure oil
Ninrew said the brutal and systematic nature of the government's operations
in advance of the oil industry was obvious to anyone in the area. The
government would begin by indiscriminant bombing, driving many from their
homes. This would be followed by helicopter gunships flying low in order to
attack those that remained.
"The third step was sending ground troops coming in vehicles and coming on
foot to make sure no more people were there," said Ninrew.
Soldiers would then establish posts just beyond the area they wanted to
control, he said. After that, the machinery and the surveyors would arrive.
Once they were done their work, the pattern would be repeated as the oil
company expanded into territory falling under its concession.
Ninrew said he hopes the investigation in Sweden will lead to a criminal
case, although he pointed out that it would not necessarily mean
compensation. He said the Swedish government should pressure Lundin to
compensate affected communities by building schools, clinics and roads.
Ninrew said that even if compensation is not forthcoming, a criminal case
against Lundin could have the benefit of preventing future abuses.
"It may serve as a lesson to other companies that want to come to
ak-out/%22> South Sudan and other countries in Africa," he said. "We want to
put an end to those oil companies coming to an area and doing whatever they
like without the consent of the local people living in the place."
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Received on Tue Nov 29 2011 - 18:01:20 EST