South Sudan Oil Consortium Funded Militias Accused of Atrocities, Report Says

Hentet fra The New York Times | Av Megan Specia

LONDON — A South Sudanese oil consortium directly financed militias accused of committing atrocities in the country’s civil war, according to an investigative report released on Thursday amid growing calls for accountability for the conflict’s human rights abuses.

The report by a watchdog group linked the consortium, Dar Petroleum Operating Company, in which Chinese- and Malaysian state-owned oil companies have large stakes, to episodes of violence, corruption and environmental degradation. It also outlined ties between forces loyal to the government of President Salva Kiir and the company, a relationship apparently forged in an effort to protect the oil fields and keep revenues flowing.

South Sudan’s oil fields, the primary source of the government’s wealth, have long been one of the pathways to finance the civil war. But the detailed report by the watchdog group the Sentry, released at a news conference in London on Thursday, attempts to further shore up the evidence of the international players believed to be complicit in the civil war, which has lasted six years, almost as long as the country has existed. The Sentry was founded by the actor George Clooney and John Prendergast, a rights activist.

While experts say there are few accountability mechanisms in place in South Sudan, the naming and shaming of major international organizations and individuals could prove financially damaging. The authors also hope the report would spur action from banks and governments, such as seizing assets and imposing sanctions on those named.

“Without their support, these atrocities could never have happened at this scale,” Mr. Clooney said. “Facts are stubborn things.”

The report comes amid a cease-fire and a stalled peace process to end the war, which has left South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, in a fragile state. Hunger is widespread. More than 1.75 million people have been displaced, hundreds of thousands have become refugees, and nearly 400,000 were believed killed in the civil war. In 2018, United Nations officials outlined a campaign of killings and rapes by government forces and their allies in the spring.

South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011 from an international push to end decades of conflict between the north and south of what was then Sudan. But by December 2013, a feud between forces loyal to Mr. Kiir and those beholden to his former vice president, Riek Machar, drew the new country into its own civil war.

The peace process formally began last year, when Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar signed an accord. The men, who met in the capital, Juba, last week, have agreed to form an interim government by Nov. 12. Many aspects of the peace deal have yet to be put in place, including the integration of former rebels into the army.

David Shearer, the head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, said in a briefing in New York on Wednesday that “tangible results” of the peace deal had remained elusive and that political consensus on several major issues had yet to be reached.

The cease-fire has largely continued to hold in most regions in the country, however, inspiring “cautious optimism” among citizens that an end to the conflict may be near. But calls for accountability for abuses are just beginning.

Mr. Clooney, who has been a powerful voice demanding an end to the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, says his role is to shine the spotlight on the overlooked involvement of international players that has sustained the war.

“These people have every right to live and not be raped and not be kicked off of their land and not be murdered,” he said of South Sudanese civilians.

Militias, often divided along ethnic lines, were major participants in the conflict, including in the area in the north where Dar Petroleum has its oil fields. The report says that email correspondence from 2014 and 2015 shows coordination between Dar Petroleum and one of those militias — a Padang group that is a subset of the ethnic Dinkas loyal to Mr. Kiir — and the delivery of significant amounts of diesel fuel to the group.

“In several instances, diesel shipments were sent just days before military operations were carried out in the exact same locations,” said Mr. Prendergast, the rights advocate. The militias were initially recruited to protect the oil facilities, he said, but “they went on to become central actors in the destruction of Upper Nile State.”

The report also includes accusations of environmental damage against Dar Petroleum, evidence it paid off the debt of a government official and allegations of the misuse of funds earmarked for development.

The Dar Petroleum Operating Company is a consortium of several international oil companies, including the China National Petroleum Corporation, a state-owned entity that has a 41 percent stake in the group; and Petronas, a company owned by the Malaysian government that has a 40 percent stake, according to Africa Oil and Power, which tracks investment in the energy sector across the African continent.

Both Petronas and the China National Petroleum Corporation have appointees serving in senior management roles in Dar Petroleum. The consortium’s links to the government and to the conflict have long been known. In March 2018, the United States slapped sanctions on Dar Petroleum, along with 14 other oil operators that it said were important sources of cash for the government. The government of South Sudan later denounced the decision.

A spokesman for China National Petroleum Corporation declined to comment on the Sentry report. Petronas did not respond to requests for comment, and attempts to reach Dar Petroleum and the government of South Sudan were unsuccessful.

Every episode explored in the report — which also detailed profiteering from the conflict by an American arms dealer, among others — highlighted international links to corruption and violence in South Sudan. The report also tied several members of Mr. Kiir’s family to international companies that act with impunity in their business dealings in the country.

Crucially, only one person mentioned in the report, the American arms dealer Ara Dolarian, has ever been charged over alleged involvement in the conflict. While the peace accord provides for the establishment of a special court dealing with human rights violations in partnership with the African Union, the government has yet to create it.

The United Nations has implicated forces of Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar in human rights abuses, and the Sentry previously detailed how both officials have profited from the conflict.

“The reality is this government does not want to be held accountable,” Mr. Prendergast said.

He said that financial pressure — particularly seizing criminally obtained assets and increasing sanctions — could halt abuses in the short term.

“You can hit these people where sometimes it matters the most,” he said, “their wallets and their bank accounts and their luxury housing internationally.”

Cao Li contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Ailin Tang from Shanghai.