South Sudanese Church leaders praise lawsuits against oil industry leaders

YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – A high-profile case involving two senior executives from Swedish oil company Lundin Energy has raised hopes that finally companies involved in extractive industries may be forced to respect human rights in areas where they operate.

The company’s two representatives, Ian Lundin and Alex Schneiter, are on trial for alleged complicity in war crimes during their company’s operations in southern Sudan in 1999 and 2003.

In 2011, the southern part of Sudan in which human rights violations allegedly took place became the independent republic of South Sudan.

Swedish prosecutors are also seeking to seize $ 152.2 million from the company, estimated at the value of the profits made from the sale of the Lundin business in southern Sudan in 2003.

Investigations leading to the charges began in 2010 following a report by PAX, a Dutch NGO, which was the former executing agency of the European Coalition on Sudan Petroleum (ECOS), into the activities of Lundin in the region.

The report titled Unpaid debt, alleged that members of the Lundin Consortium, including OMV AG (Austria) and Petronas (Malaysia), may have been involved in the commission of international crimes in Sudan between 1999 and 2003, which helped spark the devastating war there .

“The report concluded that Lundin and his business partners may have been complicit in international crimes by signing a contract with the government of Sudan to exploit oil in an area that was not under government control, a government that routinely committed war crimes, also in the context of securing oil operations, ”said Egbert Wesselink, the report’s lead author, in an interview with Node.

“When this did happen, the company nonetheless continued to call for security interventions, which were indeed invariably criminal in nature. The report also called on the Swedish government to open an investigation, ”he said.

Wesselink now says the move to indict oil executives is “fantastic news.”

“Above all, this is fantastic news for the many victims of crimes,” said

“In addition, the international legal importance is already there but will depend mainly on the procedures; if convicted, the trial will set new and higher international standards for the conduct of business under conditions of violence and other high risk conditions, ”he said. Node.

He said if the defendants were ultimately charged, it would restore a sense of justice to the victims.

“Victims of human rights violations have the right to a remedy and reparation, more specifically, the truth, recognition, apologies, access to justice, compensation, reparation and / or rehabilitation, and guarantees of non-repetition. Together, this can bring about reconciliation, ”said Wesselink.

The South Sudan Council of Churches has also welcomed this development.

“There is no peace without justice, no reconciliation apart from the truth, no forgiveness without repentance,” the council said in a statement.

“Many serious crimes have been committed against our people in South Sudan and peace remains elusive without justice, truth and repentance. 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 the statement signed by the country’s main clerics, including Archbishop Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla of Juba, who is vice chairman of the board.

“The Church was and always will be by the side of the victims of oil exploitation twenty years ago and they still do so today. Victims of abuse in villages and homes around oil fields have the right to access remedies and reparations. We hold the Swedish justice system in high regard and trust its wisdom. We pray that the trial will help heal the wounds of our brothers and sisters in Unity State and pave the way for forgiveness and reconciliation, ”the statement read.

Reverend James Kuong Ninrew, chairman of the South Sudanese Coalition for Transitional Justice and plaintiff in the trial, expressed hope that the trial, due to start in early 2022, would help end the cycle of impunity .

“Impunity and contempt for the victims have been among the root causes of the perpetuation of violence in South Sudan. There can be no peace without truth and reparation. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but no one can escape them, no matter how rich or powerful, ”he wrote in a statement.

“Our villages have been set on fire, our daughters raped, children abducted, parents beaten to death, livestock stolen, communities uprooted and displaced. The human rights violations of the oil war have devastated our lives. As victims of human rights violations, we have the right to a remedy and reparation. This right has been denied to us and we are claiming it now, ”he continued.

“Crimes were committed by various armed forces after the Sudanese government decided to let international companies exploit oil on our land. The Lundin Consortium found our oil, sold it for a fortune, and left. Its leaders should be tried soon in Sweden for complicity in crimes committed against us. The members of the Consortium and their shareholders are indebted to us and it is time to pay, ”he said.

Jerry B. Hatch