Canadian Church Activists Ambivalent about Oil company's Withdrawal from Sudan

Dec 05, 2002 01:37 PM EST

Canadian church and human rights activists are claiming some credit for the decision of a leading energy company to pull out of Sudan in the face of persistent charges that they were fueling a 19-year civil war that has resulted in the deaths of almost two million people, many of them Christians living in the south.

Talisman Energy of Canada announced in late October that it was selling its oil interests in Sudan for $750 million (US) to a subsidiary of India's national oil company. Talisman issued a statement saying that a drop in the company's stock price and a drain on human resources led to the decision--and Talisman president James Buckee said that shareholders have told me that they were tired of continually having to monitor and analyze events relating to Sudan."

After a four-year campaign of pressure on Talisman, human rights groups were ambivalent about the decision. "Our approach to the whole issue was to try and pressure Talisman to take social responsibility seriously," said Gary Kenny, a human rights policy advocate for KAIROS, a coalition of 12 Canadian church organizations.

Kenny noted that a different company halfway across the world had assumed Talisman's role--and little had changed for the Sudanese living in the region near the oil fields. "They are still vulnerable to the same kind of attacks," he said. He and others have argued over the years that Sudan's Islamic government has used oil revenues to buy arms to use in the country's civil war pitting Khartoum against the population in the south, mostly Christian and animist. Most of the deaths are attributed to famine triggered by the war.

A United Nations report issued in October pointed to "the continuation of grave human rights abuses linked to oil exploitation, aimed at depopulating oil-rich areas to ensure [government] control." Kenny said that KAIROS would continue to call for suspension of all oil development until a peace agreement is achieved.