On 3 May 2000, Amnesty International
published a report entitled 'Sudan: The Human Price of Oil'.
This report claimed to examine human rights abuses in the
oil-producing areas of south-central and southern Sudan.
It stated that "[t]he pattern of human rights violations
includes atrocities and the forcible internal displacement
of large populations of local peoples". The report further
stated that it sought to focus on
the displacement of populations "living in oil fields and
surrounding areas" and to "make clear the link between the
massive human rights violations by the security forces of
the Government of Sudan and various government allied militias."
(1) The reality is that the Report fell dramatically short
of the standards Amnesty International claims for its work.
Of particular concern is that the Report also seemed to
ignore the well-documented presence of large numbers of
child soldiers amongst the forces of one of the warlords
Amnesty International visited in Sudan.
'Sudan: The Human Price of Oil' was fundamentally flawed
both in the material it presented and that which it appears
to have consciously ignored. Given that the conflict in
and around the oil producing areas is largely between Sudanese
government forces and those of the Sudan People's Liberation
Army (SPLA) rebel movement, the report's almost exclusive
focus on allegations of government involvement in this conflict
was evidence of deliberate or unwitting distortion of the
reality of the conflict. This is in marked contrast to Amnesty
International's official claims that it is "independent
of any government, political persuasion, or religious creed...Amnesty
International is impartial. It does not take sides in political
conflicts" (2) and it also claims that it maintains "principles
of strict impartiality and independence".(3)
Perhaps of even greater concern was Amnesty International's
apparently willing dialogue with Sudanese combatants guilty
of war crimes, including the use of child soldiers. This
dialogue is all the more
disturbing and disappointing given Amnesty's public stance
on the issue of child soldiers and children's rights.
Amnesty International's 2000 Annual Report stated, for example,
"AI's 1999 campaign on children's rights ran under the slogan
'Children's rights: the future start here', and emphasized
that children's rights are an essential building block for
a solid human rights culture and the basis for securing
human rights for future generation.
Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ground-breaking
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). AI campaigned
for its effective implementation...Spelling out and confirming
children's rights is no more than a first step; ensuring
that these rights are enforced is the challenge ahead."
It is a challenge that Amnesty has all too obviously failed
to live up to in the case of Sudan.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: OFFICIAL VISITS TO WAR CRIMINALS
Amnesty International went out of its way to interview SPLA
commander Peter Gadet in Wicok village in southern Sudan
in October 1999. (4) The question that must be asked of
Amnesty International is why the organisation ignored repeated
Sudanese government invitations to visit Sudan, and chose
instead to visit Sudan illegally, in order to interview
Peter Gadet, an SPLA commander whose forces include child
soldiers? And why did Amnesty International make no mention
whatsoever of the fact that Gadet's forces include numerous
Amnesty International states that:
"AI's campaigning activities are based on meticulous research...facts
are gathered in order to generate action."
Given this commitment, it is very surprisingly indeed that
Amnesty International chose to unreservedly and unquestioningly
cite SPLA rebel commander Peter Gadet as a source for the
alleged forced displacement of civilians from the area of
the oil fields. The report states that "shortly after he
split from the [pro-government] forces of Paulino Matip,
Commander Peter Gadet confirmed that the government had
arranged for Paulino Matip's forces to clear the local population
from the area of the oil fields". Given that Gadet was a
rebel commander, who had recently defected from the forces
of Paulino Matip, he would hardly be the most reliable source
to use as "confirmation" of claims made by the SPLA. He
would have a vested interest in presenting the worst possible
picture of his enemy, the Sudanese government. Common sense,
let alone "meticulous research", would dictate considerably
more caution in
examining partisan allegations from one side in a war than
that exercised by Amnesty.
Yet Amnesty International cites Gadet on three separate
occasions as a source for serious allegations made against
the Sudanese government and oil companies. The SPLA's reputation
for disinformation is well known.
Dr Peter Nyaba, a SPLA national executive council member,
for example, described the SPLA's "sub-culture of lies,
misinformation, cheap propaganda and exhibitionism" vividly:
"Much of what filtered out of the SPLM/A propaganda machinery...was
about 90% disinformation or things concerned with the military
combat, mainly news about the fighting which were always
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: TURNING A BLIND EYE TO CHILD SOLDIERS?
Of particular concern is that Amnesty International's report
appears to have turned a blind eye to human rights violations
amounting to war crimes. Amnesty devotes a considerable
section of its report to
"reports" that local Sudanese forces defending the oil pipeline
were using child soldiers. Amnesty states
"There is increasing evidence that those who provide security
to the oil companies have child soldiers in their employ.
A former commander in the forces of rebel leader Paulino
Matip, which were employed by the government to protect
oil installations, informed Amnesty International that child
combatants are commonly used as fighters." (6)
Despite mentioning "increasing evidence", no such evidence
was produced. It is clear that "former" militia commanders
are the best sources that Amnesty can provide. Once again,
such claims from such sources are innately questionable.
Amnesty should have exercised considerably more caution
before citing this above, unnamed, source. On the basis
of this "evidence", the report takes up one page in addressing
the issue of the government, oil companies and child soldiers.
The report also goes on to include the issue of child soldiers
in its concluding section. Under Amnesty International's
Recommendations, the report calls on the Sudanese government
to "bring an immediate halt to the deployment of child soldiers".
Given Amnesty's stated interest in child soldiers within
the oil areas, it is very surprising, therefore, to note
that Amnesty International makes no mention whatsoever of
clear, independently-documented instances
of child soldiers within the ranks of the very SPLA commander
Amnesty chose to use as a source.
In February 2000, for example, Reuters correspondent Rosalind
Russell was one of a group of journalists who visited SPLA
positions on the periphery of Sudanese oil-producing areas.
She interviewed Peter Gadet, the SPLA commander in the area,
and the person cited in Amnesty International's report.
Ms Russell personally observed that the ranks of the rebel
forces had been "swollen by shy boy soldiers". (8) It must
be further documented that Ms Russell also took photographs
of the child soldiers she had seen. One photograph appeared
with the following caption: "Sudanese Child Soldiers Guard
Rebel Military Headquarters". The report and the photograph
were distributed around the world by the
Reuters news agency. Even if for some reason Amnesty Canada
had not been following key international news coverage central
to their report, 'The National Post', the Canadian national
daily, had also reported the presence of SPLA child soldiers.
Reporting from Tabanga in southern Sudan, 'National Post'
journalist Charlie Gillis unambiguously stated that most
of the SPLA "soldiers" in one location he visited were:
"adolescent boys, carrying...machine guns too big for their
The dictionary definition of "adolescent" is "between childhood
and manhood". (10) Anyone interested in balance and impartiality
must ask why it was that Amnesty chose to go public with
claims of "child
soldiers" "defending" oil installations, unproven claims
made by clearly questionable sources, why ignoring the credibly
reported presence of child soldiers amongst forces "attacking"
The absence of any comment on the above clear evidence of
child soldiers can be explained in one of two ways. Either
Amnesty International was not aware of the above prominent
international and Canadian press coverage of issues central
to their report 'Sudan: The Human Price of Oil', or Amnesty
International was aware of these independently verified
reports of child soldiers and chose not to address them
report. If the former is the case, then Amnesty International
can only be seen as an ill-informed and ill-prepared organisation
clearly not up to producing a measured and balanced account
of events within Sudan. If, on the other hand, they knew
about the above reports of SPLA ranks "swollen by..boy soldiers",
and chose not to address this issue, then Amnesty International's
reputation for impartiality and accuracy in its reporting
is clearly undermined. One can even claim that this issue
is a clear example of how skewed Amnesty's 'Sudan: The Human
Price of Oil' report actually is.
It should also be pointed out that the Statute of the International
Criminal Court makes it clear that the use of child soldiers
is a war crime:
"Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen
years into the national armed forces or using them to participate
actively in hostilities." (11)
Some of the questions which Amnesty International has yet
to answer include:
* Why Amnesty sought out a man guilty of keeping child soldiers?
* To what extent does Amnesty International normally rely
upon claims made by war criminals?
* What is Amnesty International's policy on meeting with
war criminals and relying on them as "evidence"?
* Why did Amnesty seek out and choose to cite as a source,
a man actively engaged in waging war on civilians and in
bombarding towns in southern Sudan?
* Why did Amnesty International not mention the child soldiers
within the forces of Peter Gadet, despite there being clear
photographic evidence of this abuse of children?
* Did the Amnesty International team interviewing Peter
Gadet see any child soldiers?
* Does Gadet's use of child soldiers within oil-producing
areas not deserve to be considered as "human rights violations
committed in the name of oil"?
* Why did Amnesty International turn a blind eye to independently
documented accounts of child soldiers as reported by Reuters
while choosing to accept unverified "reports" by rebels
with a vested interest
in blackening their opponent's image?
It is all too clear that 'Sudan: The Human Price of Oil'
was a hurried, poorly drafted and clearly unprofessional
publication. It was a report seemingly largely reliant on
very questionable sources. Amnesty International's choice
of its sources for allegations cited in the report is questionable
to say the least. What is also deeply disturbing is Amnesty's
decision to rely on clearly flawed sources for its human
rights reporting, rather than conduct its own human rights
work in a systematic, professional manner.
Amnesty International's lack of professionalism was self-evident.
It chose both to rely on claims made by a SPLA commander
patently guilty of serious human rights abuses including
the use of child soldiers, and to ignore the fact that he
was guilty of war crimes.
The question that must be asked is to what extent does Amnesty
engage in dialogue with war criminals?
For any human rights report to be credible the report must
go out of its way to be balanced, impartial and even handed,
and to be seen to be balanced and even handed. 'Sudan: The
Human Price of Oil' was neither. It was demonstrably unbalanced
and questionable in its content, sources, analysis and conclusions.
Amnesty International's reputation as a human rights organisation
can only but suffer as a consequence, and its very position
with regard to the use of child soldiers is seriously in
1. 'Introduction', 'Sudan: The Human Price of Oil', Amnesty
International (Canada),AI Index: AFR 54/01/00, Vanier, 3
2. 'AI Works', Amnesty International at http://www.amnesty.ca/about/index.html.
3. 'Facts and Figures About Amnesty International and its
Work for Human Rights', Amnesty International, International
Secretariat, AI Index: ORG 10/03/97, London, 13 June 1997.
4. 'Human Rights Violations Committed in the Name of Oil',
'Sudan: The Human Price of Oil', Amnesty International (Canada),AI
Index: AFR 54/01/00, Vanier, 3 May 2000.
5. Peter Nyaba, 'The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan:
An Insider's View', Fountain Publishers, Kampala, 199, p.55.
6. 'Companies' Security Arrangements', 'Sudan: The Human
Price of Oil', Amnesty International (Canada),AI Index:
AFR 54/01/00, Vanier, 3 May 2000.
7. 'Amnesty International's Recommendations', 'Sudan: The
Human Price of Oil', Amnesty International (Canada),AI Index:
AFR 54/01/00, Vanier, 3 May 2000.
8. 'Rag-tag Rebels Fight for Sudan's Oil Riches', News Article
by Reuters on 14 February 2000 at 14:24:21.
9. 'Meeting the Victims of Sudan's Oil Boom', 'The National
Post', Canada, 27 November 1999.
10. 'The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current English', Oxford
University Press, London, 1969, p.12.
11. See, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,