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Talisman Failure to Investigate Allegations Although Talisman continued to insist that there were “no people” living in its operational areas, Talisman officials told Human Rights Watch in early 2000 that they had not consulted relief agency documents nor relief personnel operating in southern Sudan when they conducted their review of the Sudan project prior to acquiring Arakis, nor after they started doing business in Sudan.1163 The relief documents, most of which were readily available on the internet, would have been useful to corroborate displacement and military activity affecting the civilian population, although the agencies rarely name those forcing the displacement.1164 In addition, Talisman officials were made aware of serious concerns about the implications of their explorations on numerous occasions by various other sources, including representatives of Unity State (at that time from Riek Machar’s United Democratic Salvation Front/South Sudan Defence Forces (UDSF/SSDF)), statements by the Canadian government, and pressure from Canadian NGOs, among others.
What Riek Machar Said He Told Talisman, 1998-99 The first encounter between Talisman executives and Nuer leader and then-Assistant to the President of Sudan Riek Machar occurred prior to the date when Talisman bought into the project. According to Riek 1162 Inter-Church Coalition on Africa, “Media Release Re: Canadian corporate involvement in Sudan Action against Talisman Energy Inc. needed urgently, Canadian agencies tell Axworthy,” Toronto, November 18, 1998.
1163 Talisman officials, interview, February 3, 2000.
1164 See http://wwnotes.reliefweb.int
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Machar, he told Talisman President and CEO Jim Buckee in Khartoum before August 1998 that oil operators must avoid displacing the civilian population and must take steps to maintain friendly relations with the local populace, by installing clinics and schools. He suggested that the oil companies should maintain close relations with his army, the SSDF, which he said was the only force that could guarantee the safety of Talisman’s operations.1165 But according to Talisman’s written response to Human Rights Watch, “At all such meetings prior to the start-up of oil production, neither Dr. [Riek] Machar nor [governor of Unity State] Taban Deng ever raised the issue of displacement of civilians from the GNPOC concession area.”1166 Talisman officials remembered that Riek Machar assured them the area was free from conflict.1167 Riek Machar told Human Rights Watch that his second meeting with Jim Buckee of Talisman took place in the presidential palace in Khartoum later in 1998; an elderly director of Talisman was also present.
Riek Machar said that when he accused Talisman’s shareholders of a lack of concern about the suffering of the Nuer people, the director accompanying Buckee became angry and insisted that they did care.
Riek Machar said that he informed the company officials that oil operations had displaced people, and that the officials neither agreed nor disagreed with this statement.1168 According to Talisman, there were several meetings between Riek Machar and Talisman, attended by Jim Buckee, Vice President Jackie Sheppard, and others. In a written response to Human Rights Watch, Reg Manhas, Talisman’s senior advisor for corporate responsibility, said that during a meeting in October 1998, “there was no issue of civilian displacement raised by Dr. Riek Machar.”1169 1165 Riek Machar, interview, August 8, 2000. Riek Machar said he told Jim Buckee that the unit of forty-one rebels who “closed down” Chevron by killing three expatriate employees was led by Cmdr. James Lial Dieu.
1166 Reg Manhas, letter to Human Rights Watch, September 13, 2000.
1167 Talisman officials, interview, February 3, 2000.
1168 Riek Machar, interview, August 8, 2000.
1169 Reg Manhas, letter to Human Rights Watch, September 13, 2000
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Riek Machar told Human Rights Watch that at his third meeting with Talisman—in September 1999, after the first pipeline sabotage—he told Jim Buckee (accompanied by Jackie Sheppard) that the problem was Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep. Riek Machar assured the Talisman officials: “We do not want to drive you out. Use your influence on the government to stop Paulino Matiep.” He said that when SSDF Cmdr.
Tito Biel, under Riek Machar, attacked Ryer/Thar Jath (in Block 5A, the Lundin consortium) in May 1999, it was not an attack against the oil companies. Cmdr. Tito Biel had escorted oil workers from Ryer/Thar Jath to Bentiu and did not destroy the oil facilities. The reason for the attack, according to Riek Machar, was that the government of Sudan was bringing its troops into the area. Riek Machar said that at this meeting Jim Buckee expressed concern for the security of Talisman’s operations, and said he wanted to know the truth of what was happening in the south.1170 Talisman officials said their last meeting with Riek Machar—at which UDSF governor of Unity State Taban Deng was present as well—took place just prior to Riek Machar’s resignation as special advisor to the president of Sudan and after oil production was underway; Riek Machar left Khartoum in midDecember 1999 and resigned from government positions on January 31, 2000. According to Talisman, at that November or December 1999 meeting Riek Machar “made a statement that 400,000 people had been displaced from the general oilfield area,” though “[a]t no time were any village names mentioned.”1171 The company did not provide Human Rights Watch with any other information about this meeting.
Despite the discrepancies, both sides therefore acknowledge that Riek Machar did, at one point or another during the period he held an official government position, tell Talisman officials that large numbers of people were displaced from the oilfield area. Some of the conversations occurred after the massive May 1999 displacements from Ruweng County/Pariang.
1170 Riek Machar, interview, August 8, 2000.
1171 Reg Manhas, letter to Human Rights Watch, September 13, 2000.
After he resigned from the government in January 2000, Riek Machar disputed several statements on displacement made by Jim Buckee in a November 23, 1999, Talisman letter to shareholders.1172 In a reply
letter dated May 5, 2000, Riek Machar claimed that at a meeting in Khartoum with Jim Buckee:
I told you Heglig (Aling) was a Dinka village in 1983 and three kilometers south of Aling was a Nuer village called Yaak. From Aling to [Rubkona] there were many villages and the government sponsored Arab nomadic militia destroyed them all to make way for oil explorations and production. This barbaric act was the main reason that made the people of Liech [Western Upper Nile/Unity State] swell the ranks of the insurgency in 1983.
Riek Machar wrote that the Sudanese army in 1998 destroyed even the local Dinka village that had sprung up in Heglig as a result of the oil operations. Riek Machar continued: “Anybody who tells you the area is not habitable is only dragging you to the war, as your predecessor the Chevron was in 1985.” As to Talisman’s responsibility, he asserted: “There is no way you would deny your participation in the forced displacement of the people of Liech [Western Upper Nile/Unity State]. It is not forced relocation, as you referred the act to be, but it is forced displacement by the barrel of the gun.”1173 Talisman stated the first time it knew of this letter and its content was not in December 1999 but some time in May 2000 after the letter was posted on the website of the Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SPDF), the new military/political group formed by Riek Machar after defecting from the government.1174 What Gov. Taban Deng Said He Told Talisman, 1999 1172 J.W. Buckee, “Letter to Shareholders—Sudan,” Calgary, November 23, 1999.
1173 Riek Machar, “Response to The Letter to the Shareholders,” May 5, 2000.
1174 Reg Manhas, letter to Human Rights Watch, September 13, 2000.
Talisman representatives met UDSF Gov. Taban Deng of Unity State in his official capacity three times, according to the governor, who was expelled from his office in May 1999 by the Sudanese army under
Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep. Gov Taban Deng said:
Taban Deng identified those who had cleared the area to provide a cordon sanitaire for the oil operations as security agents, noting that ““it was the behavior of the security clearing the area to provide security for the oil fields. Some [residents] were chased with guns. Some ran for their lives.”1176 Taban Deng gave this testimony to Human Rights Watch five months after the meetings with Talisman and more than a year before he defected from the government.
In July 1999, Human Rights Watch asked Ralph Capeling, a Talisman vice president and then the highest-ranking Talisman employee in Khartoum, also general manager for the GNPOC pipeline division, if he had heard reports of displacement from the GNPOC oil concession. He said he had but that he had not investigated them due to the frenetic pace of work that Talisman was maintaining in
order to meet pipeline and production deadlines.1177 Hence, at several levels, Talisman heard accounts of displacement but looked into them only superficially, at best.
The Campaign Against Talisman Canadian Government Promises Action on Talisman, March-April 1999 The Canadian government had been lobbied to bring pressure on Arakis, and the lobbying stepped up when Talisman took over Arakis in late 1998. The government began to express concern to Talisman about the link between the oil exploration, the war, and human rights abuses in Sudan.
Addressing a conference on religious persecution in March 1999, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy said that he had met with oil executives about the worsening situation in Sudan: “We’ve been engaged recently in what role we play in Sudan, partly because I think there is a responsibility of Canada because of the activities of some of our private-sector companies.” Minister Axworthy told the gathering that when Talisman officially said it did not feel it was its place to interfere with the actions of the Sudanese government, he had reminded the Talisman officers of voluntary codes of conduct, including one developed by the Canadian government, which set out standards for operating overseas.
The Canadian government’s priority was a settlement to the war.1178 At that same March conference, Canadian Senator Lois Wilson, former president of the World Council of Churches, said that if no progress was made in Sudan peace negotiations by April 15, 1999, Canada should consider putting pressure on Talisman to refuse to turn on the flow of oil.1179 1177 Ralph R. Capeling, General Manager, GNPOC, Pipeline Division, telephone interview with Human Rights Watch, Khartoum, July 28, 1999.
1178 Jennifer Ditchburn, “Codes of Conduct Needed in Deals with Sudan: Axworthy,” Canadian Press, Ottawa, March 15, 1999.
1179 Chris Varcoe, “Talisman Sees Hope in Sudan; Calgary Firm Continues to Face Obstacles,” Calgary Herald, Ottawa Citizen, March 19, 1999.
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In April 1999, Minister Axworthy announced that he had discussed with Talisman the idea of Talisman participation in efforts to make peace in Sudan. He characterized the proposal as part of a larger peace initiative that Canada, Norway, and Kenya were undertaking on Sudan.1180 The government was also subject, however, to pressure from the growing Canadian petroleum industry, based in western Canada. One financial journalist noted that Canadian independent oil producers had “become players in big oil’s international big leagues.” Based on market capitalization, “seven out of the world’s 15 largest exploration and production companies, including Talisman, are now Canadian.” This was in contrast to ten years before, when U.S. multinationals had dominated Canada’s oil industry.1181 Talisman Annual Meeting May 1999 In early 1999, eleven Canadian NGOs attempted to submit a proposal for a shareholder resolution at the Talisman annual meeting. The proposed resolution asked the board of directors to assure shareholders that the company’s operations in Sudan would not materially aid the capacity of the Sudanese government to engage in the civil war in that country, nor to violate internationally accepted standards of human rights. “As shareholders we believe that the company must assure us that the oil operations in which we have a financial interest are not in any way serving to fuel the war and thus to perpetuate the suffering of the Sudanese people,” one activist said. Talisman refused to include the proposal in its management proxy circular.1182 In a March 10, 1999 letter to Talisman shareholders, after refusing to include the shareholder proposal in the proxy circular, but recognizing that the Canadian NGOs and others had raised troubling questions about human rights abuses by the Sudanese government, CEO Buckee said, 1180 Jeff Sallot, “Ottawa, Calgary oil firm pursue peace in Sudan,” Globe and Mail (Toronto), Ottawa, March 18, 1999.
1181 Claudia Cattaneo, “Oil Independents Playing in the Bigs,” National Post (Toronto), Calgary, June 10, 1999.
1182 “Talisman Energy Inc. Rejects Shareholder Proposal,” Canada NewsWire, Toronto, March 8, 1999.
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Because Sudan presents significant challenges, we realized that this project would attract questions from varied sources. However, careful study last summer  persuaded management that this is a sound business investment and our involvement could be carried out in a responsible, ethical manner. Experience to date confirms that judgment.
We recognize that Sudan's chronic troubles, including poverty and conflict running along political and tribal "fault lines", create special challenges. Like many other international companies who operate in similar environments, Talisman is taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our employees.... 1183 Apparently Talisman thought that its ethical obligations reached no further than ensuring the safety of its employees. Nothing was mentioned about the rights of those living in the area where the oil was found.