On 3 May 2000, Amnesty International published a report entitled
Sudan: The Human Price of Oil
. This report claimed
to examine human rights abuses in the oil-producing areas
of south-central and southern Sudan. It stated that "[t]he
pattern of human rights violations includes atrocities and
the forcible internal displacement of large populations of
local peoples". The report further stated that it sought
to focus on the displacement of populations "living in
oil fields and surrounding areas" and to "make clear
the link between the massive human rights violations by the
security forces of the Government of Sudan and various government
A central flaw of Sudan: The Human Price of Oil
that the report ignored the pivotal fact that it takes at
least two sides to go to war. Given that the conflict in and
around the oil producing areas is largely between Sudanese
government forces and those of the Sudan People's Liberation
Army (SPLA), the report's almost exclusive focus on allegations
of government involvement in this conflict was evidence of
deliberate or unwitting distortion of the reality of conflict
in these areas. Amnesty International was seemingly unable
to analyse the circumstances in which war has now been visited
upon the oil- producing areas and their environs.
The sequence of events is clear. The SPLA identified the oil
industry as a strategic target, especially once oil began
to be pumped and exported. The SPLA clearly decided to inflict
as much damage on the oil industry as possible, and they chose
to become militarily active in the oil-producing areas in
question. This has led to attacks, including the bombardment
of towns in these areas, which has in turn led to military
confrontation between government forces and the SPLA. And,
as is the case in every war, large numbers of civilians have
chosen to leave the war zone. The oil concession areas have
been in existence for several years: population displacement
was only really reported once these areas became war zones.
While the report correctly stated that "[t]he primary
cause of the internal displacement in Sudan is direct armed
attack, or threat of armed attack on civilian populations"
it chose not to examine the SPLA's central involvement in
the war within the oil-producing areas. This omission has
fatally flawed the credibility of the report, and reflects
badly on Amnesty International.
Amnesty International states that it is "independent
of any government, political persuasion, or religious creed.Amnesty
International is impartial. It does not take sides in political
conflicts." It also claims "principles of strict
impartiality and independence". However, it is evident
that this report has demonstrably undermined Amnesty's claim
to professionalism and "principles of strict impartiality".
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, OIL AND CIVIL WARS: A DOUBLE STANDARD?
In the first instance, it must be stated that Amnesty International's
focus on the Sudanese oil industry is somewhat jarring given
that Amnesty has been remarkably silent with regard to instances
where there has been a demonstrable link between oil, civil
war and massive, on-going human rights abuses. Angola provides
a key example. Both Sudan and Angola have an oil industry.
Angola's is a long-standing business, and Sudan's has only
just begun. While Amnesty International produced this report,
focusing on the oil industry's involvement in Sudan, and the
alleged effect that oil have had in exacerbating the Sudanese
civil war, Amnesty has shown no such concern about the Angolan
oil revenues which do so clearly fund the devastating Angolan
civil war. Not one of Amnesty's six special reports on Angola,
nor any of its eleven news releases on Angola have focused
on "the human price of oil" in Angola.
It is also a matter of record that while Britain and the international
community has not seen any evidence that Sudanese oil revenues
are being used to continue the Sudanese civil war, there is
abundant evidence that Angolan oil revenues are directly funding
the Angolan conflict. In March 2000, in responding to a Parliamentary
question about whether the Angolan Government was using oil
revenues to acquire weapons, the British Government stated:
"There is no doubt that oil revenues are used to fund
the purchase of arms". The Angolan Government receives
at least $10 million per day in oil revenues: eighty percent
of its budget is spent on the war. The Bishop of Luanda, Damiao
Franklin, has openly stated "Much of Angola's wealth
goes on weapons."
Amnesty International appears to be deliberately selective
as to which oil revenues fuel which conflict. It would appear
to turn a blind eye to the Angolan oil industry.
Amnesty International's unprofessional approach in Sudan:
The Human Price of Oil
was also demonstrated by its methodologically
questionable attempt to link oil revenues to arms purchases.
The report stated that:
There is a clear connection between the new-found oil
wealth and the government's ability to purchase arms. On
the first day of the export shipment of the first 600,000
barrels of oil, and import shipment of 20 Polish T-55 tanks
arrived in Port Sudan.
This is an extraordinarily crass statement for a supposedly
reputable group such as Amnesty to have made. One would have
expected a somewhat more rigorous examination of any claimed
linkage between oil revenues and arms. The above claim by
Amnesty would be more at home in a third-rate newspaper. Other
bodies clearly apply more rigorous standards and criteria.
In March 2000, the British Government, for example, in reply
to a Parliamentary question about whether the Sudanese Government
had used oil revenues to purchase weapons, publicly stated
that they did not "have any evidence of such expenditure
at present". The British Government has also stated that
the Khartoum authorities have promised transparency with regard
to how the oil revenues are spent. The British Government
has made several such responses to similar Parliamentary questions.
It should also be noted that the British Government is no
friend of the Khartoum authorities.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: AN ACCESSORY TO AMERICAN FOREIGN
Amnesty Internal must also be careful to not be seen as an
accessory to United States foreign policy. It is a very clear
that the Clinton Administration has pursued a very hostile
policy towards Sudan. It is also clear that the fledgling
Sudanese oil industry has been a particular target of this
hostility. The timing of the publication of this report was
poorly chosen, almost coinciding with similar anti-oil campaigns
and activities by American government bodies, anti-Sudanese
coalitions and Christian fundamentalist organisations. Amnesty's
oil report was published on 3 May. Shortly afterwards, the
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom,
a federally-funded organisation identified with American foreign
policy objectives, also publicly focused on the Sudanese oil
industry in hearings before the United States Senate. And,
later that same month, a major anti-Sudanese campaign was
launched in the United States with a national focus on Washington-DC.
It would be difficult to persuade some observers that Amnesty
International was not in some way party to a broader anti-Sudanese
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AND SUDAN VERY QUESTIONABLE
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: WHY NO OFFICIAL VISIT TO SUDAN?
The first point which should be made regarding the methodology
of its report is that while Amnesty International chose to
visit Sudan illegally, at least in part to interview SPLA
commander Peter Gadet, it chose not to accept several Sudanese
government invitations to visit Sudan officially.
Following the publication of the Amnesty International report,
the Sudanese government disclosed that Sudan has on several
occasions invited Amnesty International to visit Sudan "to
see for itself". The Government stated that Amnesty was
first invited two years ago and then most recently again in
September 1999 at a meeting between the Sudanese Minister
of Justice, Mr Ali Yassin, and the Acting Deputy Secretary-General
of Amnesty International, Mrs Ann Burly. The question asked
of Amnesty by the Sudanese Government, "Why has it turned
down repeatedly the invitation of Sudan government to visit
the country, while it keeps reporting negatively about it?"
is a valid one. The question is all the more relevant given
the fact that Amnesty International chose to visit Sudan illegally,
at least in part for its interview with Gadet.
THE USE OF QUESTIONABLE SOURCES
It is of immediate concern with regard to the report's methodology
that the report uses terms such as "allegations"
or "allegedly" ten times and "reportedly"
twice. When dealing with such serious issues it is simply
inappropriate to merely repeat "allegations". This
tendency is made all the worse by the report's choice of sources.
It is very surprisingly indeed, for example, that Amnesty
International chose to unreservedly and unquestioningly cite
SPLA rebel commander Peter Gadet as a source for the alleged
forced displacement of civilians from the area of the oil
fields. The report states that "shortly after he split
from the forces of Paulino Matip, Commander Peter Gadet confirmed
that the government had arranged for Paulino Matip's forces
to clear the local population from the area of the oil fields".
Given that Gadet was a rebel commander, who had recently defected
from the forces of Paulino Matip, he would hardly be the most
reliable source to use as "confirmation" of claims
made by the SPLA. He would have a vested interest in presenting
the worst possible picture of his enemy, the Sudanese government.
Common sense would dictate considerably more caution in examining
partisan allegations from one side in a war than that exercised
Yet Amnesty International cites Gadet on three separate occasions
as a source for serious allegations made against the Sudanese
government and oil companies. The SPLA's reputation for disinformation
is well known. Dr Peter Nyaba, a SPLA national executive council
member, described the SPLA's "sub-culture of lies, misinformation,
cheap propaganda and exhibitionism" vividly:
Much of what filtered out of the SPLM/A propaganda machinery.was
about 90% disinformation or things concerned with the military
combat, mainly news about the fighting which were always
It is all too obvious that this Amnesty International publication
had more in common with journalism than any rigorous human
rights reporting. The report chose as sources for its claims,
journalists such as Julie Flint. Amnesty's reliance on journalism
rather than human rights methodology was noted by the Reuters
news agency, which stated that
Amnesty was apparently citing a report in the London
Observer newspaper for its information on the alleged
The article in question was written by Julie Flint. She is
footnoted in the report. However, Ms Flint's reporting on
Sudan has consistently indulged in sensationalist and unproven
allegations. These have included claims that the Sudanese
government has used chemical weapons in contested areas of
Sudan. The sum of her evidence for such serious allegations
was that the SPLA said that a pig fell down a crater and died.
One would have expected Amnesty International to have chosen
its sources for equally serious claims somewhat more carefully.
Flint's articles have also been remarkably selective about
which abuses she deemed worthy of attention. There was no
mention of rebel human rights outrages, despite the fact that
these systematic abuses are all too well documented. Amnesty
International appear to have closely followed Flint's lead.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: TURNING A BLIND EYE TO HUMAN RIGHTS
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AND CHILD SOLDIERS
Of particular concern is that Amnesty International's report
appears to have turned a blind eye to human rights violations
amounting to war crimes. Amnesty devotes a considerable section
of its report to "reports" that local Sudanese forces
defending the oil pipeline were using child soldiers. Amnesty
There is increasing evidence that those who provide security
to the oil companies have child soldiers in their employ.
A former commander in the forces of rebel leader Paulino
Matip, which were employed by the government to protect
oil installations, informed Amnesty International that child
combatants are commonly used as fighters.
Despite mentioning "increasing evidence", it is
clear that the "former commander" is the best source
that Amnesty can provide. Once again, such claims from such
sources are innately questionable. Amnesty should have exercised
considerably more caution before citing this above, unnamed,
source. On the basis of this "evidence", the report
takes up one page in addressing the issue of the government,
oil companies and child soldiers. The report also goes on
to include the issue of child soldiers in its concluding section.
Under Amnesty International's Recommendations, the report
calls on the Sudanese government to "bring an immediate
halt to the deployment of child soldiers".
Given this level of interest in child soldiers within the
oil areas, it is very surprising, therefore, to note that
Amnesty makes no mention whatsoever of clear, independently-documented
instances of child soldiers within the ranks of the very SPLA
commander Amnesty has chosen to use as a source.
In February 2000, for example, Reuters correspondent Rosalind
Russell was one of a group of journalists who visited SPLA
positions on the periphery of Sudanese oil-producing areas.
She interviewed Peter Gadet, the SPLA commander in the area,
and the person cited in Amnesty International's report. Ms
Russell personally observed that the ranks of the rebel forces
had been "swollen by shy boy soldiers". Even if
for some reason Amnesty Canada had not been following international
coverage of the reporting central to their report, The
, the Canadian national daily, also reported
the presence of SPLA child soldiers. Reporting from Tabanga
in southern Sudan, National Post
Gillis unambiguously stated that most of the SPLA "soldiers"
in one location he visited were:
adolescent boys, carrying.machine guns too
big for their hands.
The dictionary definition of "adolescent" is "between
childhood and manhood". Anyone interested in balance
must ask why it was that Amnesty chose to go public with claims
of "child soldiers" "defending" oil installations,
unproven claims made by clearly questionable sources, why
ignoring the credibly reported presence of child soldiers
amongst forces "attacking" oil-producing areas?
The absence of any comment on the above clear evidence of
child soldiers can be explained in one of two ways. Either
Amnesty International was not aware of the above prominent
international and Canadian press coverage of issues central
to their report Sudan: The Human Price of Oil
, or Amnesty
was aware of these independently verified reports of child
soldiers and chose not to address them in the report. If the
former is the case, then Amnesty International can only be
seen as an ill-informed and ill-prepared organisation clearly
unable to produce such a report. If on the other hand, they
knew about the above reports of SPLA ranks "swollen by..boy
soldiers", and chose not to address this issue, then
Amnesty International's reputation for impartiality and accuracy
in its reporting is clearly undermined. One can even claim
that this issue is a clear example of how skewed Amnesty's
Sudan: The Human Price of Oil
report actually is.
It must be further documented that Ms Russell also took photographs
of the child soldiers she had seen. One photograph appeared
with the following caption: "Sudanese Child Soldiers
Guard Rebel Military Headquarters". The report and the
photograph were distributed around the world by the Reuters
news agency. It is inconceivable that Amnesty International
would not have seen them. Why did Amnesty then ignore the
contents of an article containing material central to its
Sudan: The Human Price of Oil
It should also be pointed out that the Statute of the International
Criminal Court makes it clear that the use of child soldiers
is a war crime:
Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen
years into the national armed forces or using them to participate
actively in hostilities.
Amnesty International states that it visited Wicok village
in October 1999 and interviewed Peter Gadet. One must further
ask why Amnesty sought out a man guilty of keeping child soldiers?
To what extent does Amnesty International normally rely upon
claims made by a war criminal? What is Amnesty International's
policy on meeting with war criminals and relying on them as
"evidence"? Why did Amnesty seek out and choose
to cite as a source, a man actively engaged in waging war
on civilians, of bombarding towns in southern Sudan? Why did
Amnesty International not mention the child soldiers, despite
there being clear photographic evidence of this abuse of children?
Did the Amnesty International interviewing team see any child
soldiers? Does Gadet's use of child soldiers within oil-producing
areas not deserve to be considered as "human rights violations
committed in the name of oil"? Why turn a blind eye to
independently documented accounts of child soldiers as reported
by Reuters while choosing to accept unverified "reports"
by rebels with a vested interest in presenting negative images?
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: DOUBLE STANDARDS AND HYPOCRISY
While itself turning a blind eye to ample first-hand evidence
that the very people it was interviewing and citing as sources
were guilty of war crimes including the use of child soldiers,
the Amnesty report states that Amnesty "believes many
foreign companies tolerate violations by turning a blind eye
to the human rights violations committed by the government
security forces or government-allied troops in the name of
protecting the security of the oil producing areas."
Amnesty returned to this theme, stating:
Silence on the part of companies implies a tolerance
of human rights violations and fosters a climate of impunity.
Such a position on the part of Amnesty, given its uncritical
use of Gadet, can only but be described as deeply hypocritical.
To paraphrase Amnesty International, silence on the part of
Amnesty International implies a tolerance of human rights
abuses and fosters a climate of impunity. Amnesty International
has turned a blind eye to war crimes involving young children.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: FURTHER CONTRADICTORY POSITIONS
THE PRESENCE OF FORGEIGN FORCES?
The Amnesty report states that the Sudanese government has
been recruiting forces from local ethnic communities:
The pursuit of control over the oil territory provides
a powerful incentive for assembling forces based on ethnic
It would clearly make a lot of sense for the government to
recruit local Nuer and Dinka forces to defend the oil areas
from rebel attack. Any yet, while having mentioned this "powerful
incentive", Amnesty then proceeds to contradict itself.
It can be said that Amnesty appeared to be desperately seeking
any allegations, however questionable, for inclusion in the
report. One example of this "shotgun" approach involves
claims that there was a foreign military presence in the oil-producing
areas. Amnesty was seemingly unable to resist throwing in
some second or third hand claims that "Mujahedin fighters
from Afghanistan and Malaysia have been reportedly used to
protect the staff and property of companies involved in building
the oil pipeline."
Quite what use Afghan and Malaysian "mujahedin"
would be in a Nuer or Dinka area is a question Amnesty seemingly
did not bother to ask itself. Any such foreigners would not
be Arabic speakers, and they would certainly not be able to
speak Nuer or any of the dialects spoken within the oil areas.
Amnesty then cites allegations that "Iraqi" soldiers
are also active in the oil areas. Amnesty provided not the
slightest shred of evidence for such claims. One can only
but point to previous examples of claims of foreign involvement
in the Sudanese civil war. Donald Petterson, a former American
ambassador to Sudan, commented on
Reports.in the media that hundreds, even thousands of
Iranians, many of them Revolutionary Guard military and
security police advisers, had come to Sudan.The reports
were based in part on information provided by Egyptian intelligence
sources, which were conducting an assiduous disinformation
campaign against Sudan.
Given that Amnesty International was unable to present any
evidence whatsoever for its claims, there is every chance
that Amnesty has repeated similarly fanciful claims with regard
to Afghans, Malaysians and Iraqis, claims made as part of
an equally assiduous disinformation campaign. In any instance
there would appear to be no shortage of Sudanese citizens
willing to fight in southern Sudan.
DISPLACEMENT WITHIN WAR
Allegations of displacement are central to the Amnesty International
report. In the chapter of the report entitled 'Human Rights
Violations Committed in the Name of Oil", Amnesty states
Tens of thousands of people have been terrorized into
leaving their homes in Western Upper Nile since early 1999.
Government forces have used ground attacks, helicopter gunship
and indiscriminate high-altitude bombardment to clear the
local population from oil-rich areas.
Amnesty also states that "[t]here have been reports that
government troops clear the area around the town of Bentiu
using helicopter gunships." Amnesty does not provide
any sources for these general claims.
The Amnesty report also devotes a whole chapter to 'International
Standards on Internal Displacement'
What is very noticeable is that Amnesty does not mention any
SPLA activity whatsoever in these chapters. Yet Reuters provides
reliable, first-hand reporting of precisely the sort of activity
by the SPLA which leads to people being "terrorized"
and leaving their homes. A Reuters correspondent visiting
SPLA positions personally witnessed
a pillar of smoke rising from the besieged town of Mayom,
subject to daily bombardments by rebels as they try to advance
eastwards to the oil development.
Similar daily bombardments of Juba by the SPLA in the early
1990s resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. One
must ask Amnesty whether or not the daily bombardment of Mayom,
presumably one of several towns subject to this sort of action,
did not result in large numbers of civilians being "terrorized".
Would such daily bombardment not result in hundreds if not
thousands or tens of thousands of civilians leaving their
homes as the rebels "clear the area around" the
towns and villages in which they live? If so, and Mayom would
provide a clear example of daily bombardment of a town, would
this not qualify as a "human rights" violation?
If so why was there not the slightest mention of this or numerous
other examples of such activity and behaviour by the SPLA?
The Reuters report also clearly states that it is the SPLA
that is attempting to "advance eastwards to the oil development".
This would indicate that the SPLA were the aggressors in the
particular circumstances described by Reuters. Yet this does
not in any way feature in the Amnesty report.
Amnesty International's second or third-hand "reports"
of massive displacement in oil-producing areas such as Heglig
are clearly contradicted by reputable journalists who have
visited these areas. Canadian journalists and financial analysts
who visited the Heglig oil fields found no such displacement.
Claudia Cattaneo, of The Financial Post
[A]t Heglig, the site of one of Talisman's major oilfields
and processing facilities, there is no evidence of population
displacement. Military presence is low key. Children are
playing and going to school near the oil wells. Western
and Sudanese workers say thousands of nomads are coming
here to look for work, for medical assistance.or for education.
Had Amnesty International availed itself of the invitations
to visit Sudan and see the areas in question for themselves,
they would have seen, as many independent observers have,
that much of the Heglig concession is a flood plain upon which
permanent habitation would have been impossible.
Perhaps more than four million Sudanese, the majority of them
southern Sudanese, have been displaced as a result of the
Sudanese civil war. They have fled fighting between government
and rebel forces. More than two million of these southern
Sudanese refugees live in and around Khartoum: many more live
in other parts of northern Sudan. The simple fact is that
displacement is the result of war, war between government
forces and the SPLA, and intra-southern Sudanese fighting.
To read Sudan: The Human Price of Oil
would leave one
with the impression that the displacement of civilians in
the oil areas was solely the result of government action.
This is demonstrably untrue. Such a skewed picture presents
a distorted picture of Sudan and the Sudanese conflict. This
in turn distorts international perceptions of the conflict
and makes it even more difficult for the international community
to assist in the resolution of the conflict.
It is all too clear that Sudan: The Human Price of Oil
was a hurried, poorly drafted and clearly unprofessional publication.
It was a report largely reliant on newspaper reporting. Amnesty
International's choice of those articles and the journalists
it then used as sources for allegations cited in the report
is questionable to say the least. What is also deeply questionable
is that given Amnesty's decision to rely on journalistic sources
for its human rights reporting, rather than conduct its own
human rights work in a systematic, professional manner, why
Amnesty then chose to totally ignore relevant first-hand,
credible, reporting from Reuters, citing instead second and
third hand newspaper accounts by partisan journalists.
Amnesty International's lack of professional was also manifested
in other areas. While clearly seeking to bring pressure to
bear upon those oil companies involved in Sudan, the report
was not able to produce a single piece of evidence that any
oil company has been involved in human rights abuses. At the
same time Amnesty International chose to ignore ample evidence
of serious human rights violations by the SPLA within the
oil-producing areas, violations amounting to war crimes. Amnesty
also chose both to rely on claims made by a SPLA commander
patently guilty of serious human rights abuses including the
use of child soldiers and to ignore the fact that he was guilty
of war crimes.
It must be asked why Amnesty International chose to ignore
reputable, first-hand accounts of events in the oil-producing
areas, accounts which included credible reports of child soldiers
and the daily bombardment of towns? It must also be asked
why Amnesty chose instead to publish claims made by rebel
commanders and partisan journalists? And to what extent does
Amnesty engage in dialogue with war criminals?
For any human rights report to be credible the report must
go out of its way to be balanced, impartial and even handed,
and to be seen to be balanced and even handed. This report
was neither. Sudan: The Human
Price of Oil was demonstrably unbalanced and demonstrably
questionable in its content, sources, analysis and conclusions.
Amnesty International's reputation as a human rights organisation
can only but suffer as a consequence.