KAIROS’ Statement on Talisman Energy’s Intended Sale of its Sudan Assets

Tasneem Jamal

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2002 Volume 23 Issue 4

Project Ploughshares continues to support peacebuilding projects for the people of Sudan. Although there has been a move towards a negotiated and sustainable peace agreement much work must still be done and will continue to be a priority for our partners who work on regional security issues in the Horn of Africa.

As this statement from KAIROS points out, Talisman’s retreat from the country will not bring an end to the suffering of the Sudanese people. Conflict over oil resources continues to be a key factor in the war, and agreement over oil revenue sharing will need to be a crucial element of any negotiated settlement. However, without the presence of Talisman in Sudan we hope that the Canadian government may be in a position to play a more proactive role in supporting the formal Sudan peace process in fora such as the Sudan Committee of the IGAD Partners Forum and UN bodies such as the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights.

Through the Sudan Inter-Agency Reference Group (SIARG), Ploughshares and other concerned Canadian NGOs continue to encourage the Canadian government to devote resources to resolving the Sudanese crisis. There are some positive signals from the recently appointed Canadian Special Envoy to Sudan, Senator Mobina Jaffer, that the government is committed to responding to the human rights situation and civil society concerns in Sudan, in support of the current peace effort.

1 November 2002

With mixed feelings, KAIROS has received the news of Talisman Energy’s intention to sell its assets in Sudan, a country where oil development is virtually synonymous with civil war and gross violations of human rights, and where foreign companies like Talisman are clearly profiting from armed conflict.

While some of Talisman’s shareholders are breathing a sigh of relief, KAIROS’ church-based and socially responsible investors, together with human rights organizations that have focused their energies on extractive companies operating in conflict zones, remain deeply concerned for the people of Southern Sudan. These beleaguered people bear the scars of a war in which oil development has played a critical role. The change in Sudan’s oil operating partnership will bring no foreseeable relief.

Talisman’s Sudan venture has been a continual target of scrutiny and protest since investing there in 1998. But the company has blatantly walked away from its responsibilities in Sudan. Had Talisman listened to church and other shareholders, and properly incorporated a human rights framework into its business plan, it might have played a constructive role in transforming oil development into a force for peace rather than the instrument of death it has become.

KAIROS and its Sudanese church partners have always maintained that oil development could have been of great benefit to Sudan, if the company adopted international human rights standards, an independent human rights monitoring and reporting process, and provided assurances that the role of oil production was not exacerbating the conflict. The company sidestepped these demands and remained obdurate to the end, refusing to take any real responsibility for the human rights abuses associated with oil operations.

Actions taken by the company to emphasize professed social and human rights commitments obfuscated the larger context. Reports published in 2001 and 2002, to demonstrate compliance with the International Code of Ethics for Canadian Business, obscured the ugly truth of human rights atrocities occurring in the oil fields.

Talisman often claimed that another oil company would be less inclined to respect human rights in Sudan. But it is difficult to imagine abuses more serious than those already being committed by Sudanese government forces in concessions licensed to Talisman. According to reports issued by independent human rights experts, violations included attacks on civilians by helicopter gunships re-fueled and re-armed on airstrips on Talisman’s concessions, and the forced displacement and killing of people in concession areas under exploration.

Despite the company’s stated commitment to fund community development projects through to 2005, expert analysis has demonstrated that the projects were of little benefit to southern Sudanese anyway, and were engineered more as a public relations ploy by Talisman. Moreover, KAIROS’ Sudanese church partners have maintained that Talisman’s few development activities were a wholly inadequate response to the escalating war supported by unmitigated oil production.

Paradoxically, Talisman’s bad example may have advanced work in the area of corporate social responsibility. Other companies will now weigh offshore venture opportunities against a new set of standards that place greater emphasis on political risk analysis and human rights assessments. They will also want to ensure there is no conflict with their corporate values rather than “managing” negative publicity through high-priced public relations firms. Irrespective of its apparently lucrative departure, Talisman will not disappear from the watch list of responsible investors. Civil litigation on behalf of Sudanese displaced from the oil fields is ongoing in the US. Activists and lawyers in the US and Canada are apparently exploring whether Talisman executives and board members could eventually be charged with crimes against humanity, in view of the newly established International Criminal Court. The company’s activities in Colombia, another country where armed conflict and systematic human rights abuses occur, are also under scrutiny.

Talisman’s departure from Sudan is an opportunity for the Canadian government to reflect on its own obligations in the area of international human rights. The results of a 2001 poll by Vector Research show that the majority of Canadians want Canada to exercise international leadership to make companies subject to enforceable corporate accountability standards. KAIROS and its Sudanese church partners will continue to call for a suspension of all oil development activities in Sudan until a just and lasting peace is achieved, and will continue to monitor the impact of Sudanese oil development and the operations of foreign companies working there.

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