Far beyond America's Gulf Coast another oil disaster has struck, but the
current damage stems from allegations of possible complicity in "war crimes and
crimes against humanity". The activities in question occurred in Sudan between
1997 and 2003, with an oil consortium led by Sweden's Lundin Petroleum at the
center of a growing storm with implications potentially impacting Asia's oil
Sweden's coverage of the story has been dominated by questions surrounding what
it means for Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a member of Lundin's board
from 2000-2006. The possibility of Bildt, Sweden's prime minister from 1991 to
1994, being criminally prosecuted has been widely reported.
On Monday, a decision to launch a formal investigation into the
events surrounding Lundin's Sudanese efforts was announced, with Magnus Elving
of Sweden's International Prosecution Chamber directing the process.
While refusing media comment on the ongoing investigation, a week ago Elving
told Asia Times Online that he had already sought "resources" for the process,
and Bildt's office said they had been expecting the investigation for several
weeks. A week ago and in a Monday media release, Elving pointed to a recent
report by a group of 50 European non-governmental organizations that had worked
in Sudan - ECOS (European Coalition on Oil in Sudan - as motivating his action.
The ECOS report, "Unpaid Debt: The Legacy of Lundin, Petronas and OMV in Sudan,
1997-2003", argues that "the home governments of Lundin (Sweden), Petronas
(Malaysia) and OMV (Austria) have failed in their international obligations to
prevent human-rights violations and international crimes".
Notably, while the report doesn't take aim at Chinese or Indian oil interests,
it does cite the involvement of ONGC Videsh Ltd of India and China National
Petroleum Company, CNPC, as active in an adjoining area, part of the concession
known as the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co (GNPOC). However, the report
does present substantive allegations regarding the Lundin Consortium, charging
it "may have been complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against
Events in Sweden began earlier this year with the publication of a book, Business
in Oil and Blood by Kerstin Lundell. Prominent Stockholm attorney Sten
de Geer sent the work to Sweden's prosecutor general, and in March the activity
leading to Monday's investigation announcement began, the prosecutor
subsequently making contact with ECOS. De Geer told Asia Times Online that "it
is of paramount importance that justice is also done when the suspects are
powerful businessmen or politicians in the West".
Bildt's former association with Lundin has now prompted a political atmosphere
in Sweden bordering on crisis.
Demonstrating the current political volatility, Sweden's opposition parties
voiced unanimous and stark reservations regarding Bildt's ability to continue
as foreign minister. Former Social Democratic justice minister Thomas Bodstrom
urged Bildt to take a "time-out", also writing that Bildt's conservative
Moderate Party ethics rules suggested such action.
Sweden's Left Party foreign affairs spokesman Hans Linde simply demanded
Bildt's immediate resignation. And the final opposition party, the Swedish
Greens, had one of their two leaders, Peter Eriksson, question if Sweden could
realistically allow a foreign minister involved with a question of "genocide".
On Tuesday, in an unusual move, the trans-national Party of European Socialists
(PES) called on Bildt, who is a member of a competing political block, to
"withdraw for the duration of the investigation". The PES is a significant
political group, the largest in the European parliament, with former Danish
prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen as its leader. However, Bildt dismissed the
PES criticism as an "expression of desperation", essentially labeling the
action as contrived.
With a national election scheduled for mid-September, passions are running
"He's not going to take ‘time-out' ... and he's not going to leave as well,"
Irena Busic, Bildt's press secretary, told Asia Times Online, highlighting the
well-defined battlelines currently drawn. In explaining Bildt's Lundin role
regarding Sudan, Busic drew a parallel with Bildt's actions in bringing peace
to Bosnia as a UN special envoy, saying that Lundin and "a lot of other
companies" were, in fact, those responsible for helping to highlight the
difficulties Sudan was then facing.
She stated that Bildt's job at the board of Lundin Oil was to "draw Sudan up to
the foreign agenda ... to the world agenda", with his hope being to "bring some
kind of peace, or some kind of attention, to Sudan". However, according to a
2003 Human Rights Watch report, "Sudan, Oil and Human Rights", this isn't the
first criticism Bildt's Lundin connection has drawn.
According to HRW, the London-based charity Christian Aid charged in March 2001
that "government troops and militias had burned and depopulated the entire
length of Lundin's oil road in 2000 in order to make way for Lundin's
operations". The revelation caused a Swedish firestorm at the time.
Bildt drew strong criticism from then-Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh.
Human Rights Watch quoted her as saying "we expect Swedish companies to respect
an ethical code in line with human rights and the environment in which they
operate abroad". Human Rights Watch further noted that Lindh had sought to then
have the government investigate Lundin's Sudan activities.
ECOS claims its current report has substantive new information over anything
that has previously come forward, and the now ongoing criminal investigation
does appear to provide comment on that. However, Bildt's press secretary,
Busic, takes exception to this, stating, "There's nothing new in that [ECOS]
report that hasn't already been investigated."
Prosecutor Elving's investigation press release stated little beyond that it
would pursue violations of humanitarian law occurring in Sudan during
1997-2003, and reiterated the influence of the ECOS report.
According to the Swedish attorney representing ECOS, Percy Bratt, "[Under]
Swedish law, if there's a suspicion that there has been a crime within the
company, the starting point is always at the top ... the board and the managing
director." Bratt added that one of ECOS's goals is the establishment of
effective "limits for companies working in these types of conflict areas with
regimes that are committing human-rights violations".
ECOS states that the Sudanese problems began when the Lundin consortium signed
a 1997 agreement with Sudan's government for the exploitation of oil in an area
in which the Sudanese government did not have complete control. The group
charges that the subsequent governmental efforts to secure the oil fields
sparked conflict where the civilian population was forcibly displaced and
Their report cites documentation of numerous atrocities, including the
targeting of civilians, destruction of shelters, pillage, killing, rape,
abduction and torture. It further alleges the Sudanese government used
"artillery, ground troops, helicopter gunships and high-altitude bombers
against the civilian population". ECOS estimates that 12,000 people died and
160,000 were forcibly displaced through such efforts.
Said Mahmoudi, professor of International Law at Stockholm University, saw
Sweden's ongoing investigation as revolving on "a question of directly, or
indirectly, planning a serious crime, or even participating in committing that
crime". Mahmoudi added, "These are very serious accusations."
He noted that under the law addressing potential war crimes and crimes against
humanity, guilt can only exist where an act of "commission", not "omission",
occurs. Only in cases of genocide can an act of omission bring culpability, he
said, but he believed that, in a way, an ECOS victory had already taken place.
"The good thing has already come out of it," Mahmoudi said. "I think the very
important thing is not whether Lundin Oil has the law on its side or not, the
fact is that they should feel ashamed - they have an ethical and moral
obligation not to sleep there, or stand there, and look at it. Nobody believes
if they say they didn't know what was happening there [in Sudan]," further
emphasizing the social responsibility "not to make money at any price".
In the 2003 HRW report on Sudan, a section of it was titled "Lundin: Willfully
Blind To Devastation in Block 5A", the same geographic locale that ECOS cites.
ECOS calls on the governments of Sweden, Austria and Malaysia to act, with
ECOS's coordinator, Egbert Wesselink, observing, "You have this strange
incoherence in the policies of many countries where one part of the foreign
ministry is promoting respect for human rights and another part of the foreign
ministry is promoting international trade and investment, and they don't seem
to know each other."
Wesselink said, "We think it's possible to get a political process; the
governments of Malaysia, Austria and Sweden have a special responsibility." It
was vital, he said, for a successful Sudanese future that all those involved in
the conflict reconcile; Africa's system of justice typically focused on
"undoing the injustice to the victims".
On Monday, when Sweden's investigation was officially opened, Wesselink's only
comment for Asia Times Online was, "I hope this will come to benefit the
victims of the war."
Lundin had no comment, but vice president for legal affairs Jeffrey Fountain
pointed to an open letter on the company website rejecting "all the allegations
and inferences of wrongdoing attributed to Lundin Petroleum" by the ECOS
report. Stockholm's Malaysian Embassy had no one available to provide comment,
and an e-mail query to Petronas was unanswered at press time.
Sudan is scheduled to have a referendum next year regarding southern Sudan's
effective independence. To ensure national stability, "one big issue remains to
be resolved, and that's reconciliation - the national reconciliation, but also
the reconciliation with the ‘outside world'," Wesselink said.
A reading of recent news articles regarding Sudan readily reveals concerns
regarding a potential renewal of hostilities. Today, the Sudanese oil industry
is dominated by Asian firms.
Highlighting Asian interests in Sudanese oil, a 2007 Human Rights Watch
communication regarding Sudan's Darfur issue noted:
production is currently concentrated in four main projects by foreign
investors. The Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), comprised of
the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), Malaysia's Petronas, the Oil
Natural Gas Company of India, and the Sudan National Petroleum Company
(Sudapet) produces the bulk of the country's oil.
Petrodar, a consortium of CNPC, Petronas and Sudapet, are developing two blocks
that could produce as much as 300,000 barrels per day. The White Nile Petroleum
Company (Petronas, ONGC, Sudapet) is developing another project that could
produce about 80,000 barrels a day. And the last project is one run by CNPC in
Block 6 that produces about 40,000 barrels per day.
Goldstein is an investigative political journalist whose work has
appeared widely, including in the US's Christian Science Monitor, Spain's El
Mundo, Austria's Wiener Zeitung and Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, as well
as with other significant members of the global media.