By Fredrick Nzwili*
The charges are based on the activities of the international consortium in Unity State from 1997- 2003. By then, the group had signed an exploration and production sharing agreement with the government of Sudan through Sudan Limited, which was its local subsidiary. The consortium was to explore and extract oil for a specified period in block 5A, an oil-rich area of the size of 30,000 square kilometres. Sudan Limited was the operator.
“It is encouraging to know that the Swedish authorities have decided to hold the oil company Lundin Energy to account for its role during the civil war,” said leaders of the South Sudan Council of Churches in a statement on 18 November.
This is the first time a country anywhere in the world has issued charges against an oil company for abetting abuses in South Sudan – an African country which is struggling to find peace after many years of civil war.
According to the leaders, many grave crimes have been committed against the people of South Sudan and peace remains elusive without justice, truth and repentance.
“There is no peace without justice, no reconciliation outside the truth, no forgiveness without repentance,” the leaders said.
The charging document says from May 1999 – March 2003, the Sudanese military and allied militia launched military operations to seize the oil exploration areas and create a suitable environment for Sudan Limited. The operation was based on a 1997 agreement between the government of Sudan and several militias from Southern Sudan, excluding the South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army.
According to the agreement South Sudan Defence Forces would be responsible for securing and creating the conditions suitable for Sudan Limited’s operation.
The military operation involving ground attacks by a combined force from Sudan military and local militias, and aerial bombardment by Antonov planes belonging to the Sudan airforce, led to civilian death, injuries and displacement of thousands.
Houses, health facilities and other buildings were are also destroyed. Livestock, crops and harvests were destroyed, denying the people food supplies. There was also widespread looting and abduction of civilians.
The leaders said the church stood with victims during those attacks 20 years ago, will always stand with the victims of oil exploitation and still continue to stand with them.
“Victims of abuses in villages and homes around the oil fields have the right to access remedy and reparation,” said the leaders.
The clerics expressed hope that the trial will heal the wounds of the people in Unity State and pave the road for forgiveness and reconciliation.
*Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.