Failure to sanction Talisman criticized

Published April 1, 2000


Aid agencies, including the Anglican Church?s Primate?s World Relief and Development Fund, are angry the federal government has failed to sanction Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc. for its oil drilling operations in Sudan.

?I really have difficulty understanding this response,? says Zaida Bastos, Africa program associate for the Primate?s Fund. The government sent special envoy John Harker and a team of observers to Sudan to report back on conditions there and the effect of Talisman?s partnership with the government of Sudan, she noted.

?If the evidence was there, Talisman was to be sanctioned. Come the report, the evidence is there but the government says it is not time to do that ? I think that everyone was disappointed.?

During the 17-year civil war in Sudan, it?s estimated that two million people have died and 4.5 million have been displaced. The government-controlled mainly Arab north has been fighting with the southern Christians and animists.

Talisman owns a 25 per cent stake in an oil consortium dominated by the Chinese and Malaysian state oil companies, with the Sudanese state oil company as a junior partner. The Sudanese government provides security for Talisman and allegations were that the oil company?s oil extraction was exacerbating the civil war.

The Harker commission found evidence of forced relocation of people living near oil fields and forced abductions or slavery. ?We can only conclude that Sudan is a place of extraordinary suffering and continuing human rights violations, even though some forward progress can be recorded, and the oil operations in which a Canadian company is involved add more suffering,? the report states.

Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy said he agrees oil is exacerbating the situation in Sudan but he was reluctant to impose sanctions immediately because he wanted Talisman to meet its responsibilities, including using its influence with the government to end human-rights abuses.

The committee that oversees the Primate?s Fund will be recommending to Council of General Synod in May a two-pronged approach to divesting itself of shares. Ms. Bastos said it wants the church to divest its pension funds from Talisman, valued at about $2.1-million in shares. It also recommends, however, that the church maintain its Talisman holdings of about $27,000 in the consolidated trust fund to allow it to keep pressuring the company.

That amount is negligible, Ms. Bastos said, but ?it allows us to register shares, go to meetings, have motions on the floor ? still do advocacy.?

Aid groups are calling for such moves as the appointment of an independent human-rights monitor, Ms. Bastos said.

Meanwhile, World Vision Canada has pulled its 101 international staff out of southern Sudan after being asked to sign an agreement with rebel forces in the area.

The Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association, the humanitarian wing of the Sudan People?s Liberation Army, which controls most of southern Sudan, told World Vision and other non-governmental organizations they had to sign a memorandum of understanding or leave.

Among other things, the memorandum requires NGOs to ?work in co-ordination? with the association?s objectives. The document provides no assurances for the safety of NGO personnel and no right to evacuate staff.

?To sign the agreement as it now stands would put in question our neutrality because it compels signatories to ?work in accordance with SSRA goals,? not humanitarian principles,? said Linda Tripp, vice-president of advocacy and government relations at World Vision Canada. ?It would leave open that the SSRA could dictate (provision of) aid.?

NGOs had been negotiating the memorandum for several months, but the rebel group abruptly ended talks Jan. 12 and imposed a March 1 deadline to sign or leave. Also leaving are Save the Children and CARE which provide assistance to 350,000 people. At press time, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), Oxfam and Catholic Relief Services had not decided whether to sign. The Red Cross and United Nations agencies have signed separate agreements and will stay in the area. World Vision has arranged for its services to be transferred to such agencies.

World Vision has worked in southern Sudan for 11 years providing emergency relief, health and nutrition, agricultural recovery, water and sanitation, and peace and reconciliation assistance to 400,000 people. Annual expenditures were $16 million US

The Primate?s Fund works through the New Sudan Council of Churches so is not directly affected by the memorandum.

Marianne Meed Ward is a Toronto freelance writer and broadcaster.


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