Canada Calling – Fact-Finder’s Report Does Not Recommend Sanctions Against Talisman Over Its Sudan Operations
By Faisal Kutty – A fact-finder appointed by the Canadian government concluded earlier this year that a Canadian company’s operations in Sudan helped fuel the civil war and misery there. But the fact-finder’s long-awaited report did not recommend a ban on Talisman Energy’s investments in Sudan or sanctions against the company. Instead the Calgary-based oil giant will be allowed to operate and Canada will open an office in Khartoum to monitor it and the human rights situation.
The Sudanese Embassy in Ottawa welcomed the Canadian move. In a statement issued on Feb. 14, Sudanese Chargé d’Affaires Abd Elghani E. Awad El Karim said that the “diplomatic presence of Canada will also enhance the Canadian support for peace, and strengthen the ties between the two nations.” He added, “We reaffirm our full commitment to work seriously to find a peaceful settlement to the conflict.”
John Harker, a former official with the left-leaning Canadian Labor Congress, was sent to Sudan to probe allegations that Talisman is contributing to human rights abuses in the country. Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy appointed Harker in October of last year, three days after U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated that Canada and other Western nations who invested in countries ruled by dictators disappointed her.
She specifically mentioned Talisman and promised to take up the issue with Canadian authorities. Within three days of this statement Axworthy announced a major policy shift on the Sudan. Initially Axworthy threatened sanctions against the company for doing business there.
Talisman is the largest independent oil and gas producer in Canada and has invested approximately $760 million in its Sudan operations. It owns a 25 percent stake in a Chinese-Malaysian-Sudanese consortium drilling in southern Sudan.
The American administration, as well as church and human rights groups, have been hounding the company for some time. And now they are angrier than ever and they have intensified their campaign to blacklist Sudan. The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned Canada’s decision not to impose sanctions on the company. The U.S. has tried to get Canada to enact sanctions since Washington criminalized any dealings with the Sudan about two years ago.
The Religious Freedom Commission held hearings in Washington to look into alleged human-rights abuses and religious persecution in Sudan’s civil war. It is also looking into ways to prevent Talisman from accessing U.S. capital markets.
The company’s stock, which only recently started bouncing back, is listed on the Toronto, Montreal and New York stock exchanges. The company is already the target of a divestment campaign and has been dumped by several large institutional investors in both Canada and the United States.
In fact, you can’t pick up any newspaper in Canada, including university newspapers, without finding an article critical of Sudan and Talisman. Unfortunately, these stories often regurgitate press releases put out by so-called “humanitarian” groups such as the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group, a front for supporters of Israel, and southern Sudanese opposition groups. And not a day goes by without at least one media outlet doing a story alleging persecution of Christians in the Sudan and citing Talisman’s connection to the Sudanese government.
The lack of objectivity in media coverage of Sudan events is obvious. So is the hypocrisy in U.S. concerns for its own business interests. Although the State Department has labeled Sudan a human-rights offender and sponsor of international terrorism, Albright has granted U.S. soft drink and candy manufacturers special exemptions to purchase Sudanese gum arabic.
Axworthy’s response to the State Department was blunt: “We make our own foreign policy,” he told reporters. “The issue isn’t Talisman’s role, but how you get peace in a conflict that has gone on for two decades.”
What has been characterized as a war pitting northern Muslims against southern animists and Christians is in reality a multitude of conflicts along tribal, racial and religious lines. The “bad” north against the “good” south is a false picture painted by certain groups with ulterior motives and the U.S. administration.
A deplorable aspect of this civil war, aside from the innocent victims on both sides, is the exploitation of the term “slavery.”
Interestingly, in the wake of the report the media stopped using the word slavery. This is because numerous critics of the anti-Sudan policy have suggested that the alleged slavery is in fact the traditional practice of inter-tribal hostage-taking, which has been revived and exacerbated by the civil war and the diversion of aid money to “free” these “slaves.” Seemingly this is an issue of increasing supply to meet the growing demand generated by organizations such as the suspect Christian Solidarity International and the misleadingly named American Anti-Slavery Group.
One can only hope Axworthy will follow through and not cave to American pressure and propaganda from either side. A policy of constructive engagement is in the best interest of the people of Sudan. And such a policy can only be effective if it is based on accurate and unbiased information.
Canadians Hit the Streets in Support of Chechnya
Toronto police closed off a number of streets as a procession of more than 2,000 protesters marched through the downtown core on March 25to bring attention to the plight of Chechen civilians. The protesters made their way along a 1.5-kilometer stretch from Nathan Phillips Square to Queen’s Park, the seat of the Provincial Legislature.
The protest, organized by the Toronto Chechnya Taskforce (www.chechnyataskforce.com), was the largest organized by the community since a rally in favor of Bosnians in the early 1990s that attracted about 4,000.
The media were out in full force but afterward many participants expressed dissatisfaction about the lack of any serious coverage.
Attendance at the rally was also contested. “As usual, the figures were underestimated by the media and police,” charged Imran Yousuf, one of the organizers. The estimates ranged from 400 to over 2,000.
When approached by the Washington Report at the peak of the rally, the police put the figure at 400 to 420. But according to Yousuf, the organizers collected more than 1,130 petition letters from the marchers.
“Not everyone signed the petition, there were two other petitions circulating in the crowd and many people joined and left at different stages of the march,” said Yousuf. “So if all this is taken into consideration, we believe that the turnout was well above 2,000, including children.”
The marchers hoped to pressure Canadian authorities to call on the Russians to stop their onslaught. The Task Force says this is only consistent with Canada’s humanitarian reputation. To date a number of opposition members of Parliament have raised the issue in Ottawa but have not gotten very far with the goverment. Moreover, the media have been silent on opposition efforts to raise the issue.
Thousands have been killed and more than 200,000 have been rendered internally displaced in the recent wave of fighting. Human Rights Watch, the Council of Europe and Physicians for Human Rights, among others, have tried to bring attention to war crimes, summary executions of civilians and other violations of international law carried out by Russian troops. “Despite reports from independent human rights groups, the world community, including Canada, has remained largely silent,” said Anwaar Syed, spokesperson for the Task Force and executive director of the Canadian Muslim Civil Liberties Association (CMCLA).
As the marchers streamed onto the grounds of Queen’s Park, master of ceremonies Abdul Rahman Malik pumped them up with his dynamic call to keep the plight of the Chechens in the forefront of public attention. Dawud Warnsby-Ali, a local activist and internationally recognized songwriter, told the crowd that Canada is a country of peace and should call for an end to the attack on the Chechens.
He captivated the audience with a rendition of one of his songs, “The Letter,” (about a Chechen child’s experience) from the Soundvision album by the same name. Imam Mohamed Khattab and Imam Shabbir Ali, both prominent members of the community, echoed his sentiments and motivated the gathering to keep up the pressure to ensure that justice and dignity is brought to the suffering.
Solange Waithe, who is head of a Chechnya awareness project, provided some historical background on the conflict and moved many with a demonstration of physical displacement. A recently arrived Chechen whose family is still in the war zone crowned the roster of speakers. He told the people he was very moved, and thanked the multi-ethnic crowd for coming out to support the cause.
The protest was endorsed and sponsored by the following organizations: Muslim Students Association of Canada and U.S., Jami Mosque, TARIC Mosque, Islamic Foundation of Toronto, International Muslims Organization, the Canadian Islamic Congress, the Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association, Islamic Institute of Toronto, Islamic Society of North America, Islamic Circle of North America, Islamic Society of Toronto, Islamic Community Center of Ontario, and Human Concern International, as well as a number of other mosques and organizations in and around the city.
For more information contact the Chechnya Task Force at (416) 289-3871 or by e-mail at <email@example.com> or visit the Web site at http://www.chechnyataskforce.com.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and international affairs columnist for iViews.com
Note: First Published: MAY 2000, pages 36-37
Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/yjl4xla