Swedish Oil Company under Scrutiny after Sudan War Crimes Report

Article excerpt

An official investigation has been launched after a report alleging Sudan war crimes by Swedish firm Lundin Petroleum. The Swedish foreign minister was on Lundin's board at the time under investigation.

Swedish public prosecutor Magnus Elving launched a formal investigation Monday sparked by allegations that an oil consortium led by Swedish firm Lundin Petroleum may have been complicit in "war crimes and crimes against humanity" in Sudan. The case, which has links to Sweden's foreign minister, has raised questions about international obligations of companies to safeguard human rights in conflict zones.

The investigation into the alleged activity, which occurred between 1997 and 2003, resulted from a recent report by the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan, or ECOS, a group of 50 European NGOs.

The ECOS report argues that "the home governments of Lundin [Sweden], Petronas [Malaysia] and OMV [Austria] have failed in their international obligations to prevent human rights violations and international crimes." It further charges that the consortium "may have been complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity."

ECOS hopes the criminal investigation in Sweden will have a far- reaching impact.

Percy Bratt, who is representing ECOS, says that one of the group's goals in producing the report is the establishment of effective "limits for companies working in these types of conflict areas with regimes that are committing human rights violations." ECOS has also stated that it wants to push each country to speak with one voice on human rights.

"You have this strange incoherence in the policies of many countries where one part of the Foreign Ministry is promoting respect for human rights, and another part of the Foreign Ministry is promoting international trade and investment, and they don't seem to know each other," says ECOS Coordinator Egbert Wesselink.

In some parts of the world, he says, many companies are effectively working in a legal void because there is no functioning legal system. He points to the enforcement of national laws by these firms' home countries - particularly in regards to humanitarian and human rights law - as a remedy. Mr. Wesselink notes that such mechanisms are already in place, citing the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court, but says "this idea has to be transferred to corporations and the people leading them."

As for Sudan's victims, Wesselink points to international law on civil remedies and the precedent set in Bosnia, where an international commission was set up to compensate victims. He further noted the Sudanese Constitution states that the signatories to the oil agreements - the oil companies and the Sudanese government - are responsible for providing compensation.

1997 agreement

The problems cited in the report began, ECOS charges, when the Lundin Consortium signed a 1997 agreement with Sudan's government for the exploitation of oil in an area where the government lacked "full control. …