Date of Publication: 9 August 2000





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, that:

"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 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 child soldiers?

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 efficaciously
exaggerated." (5)


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". (7)

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 hands." (9)

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" oil-producing areas?

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 in the
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 question.


1. 'Introduction', 'Sudan: The Human Price of Oil', Amnesty International (Canada),AI Index: AFR 54/01/00, Vanier, 3 May 2000.

2. 'AI Works', Amnesty International at

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, at

Espac Published by The European - Sudanese Public Affairs Council Copyright © David Hoile 2005
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