Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch, told Aljazeera.net the oil industry had had a devastating impact on the lives of many Sudanese. 

"Oil development in southern Sudan should have been the cause of rejoicing for Sudan's people, instead it has brought nothing but woe."

Rone was speaking after the organisation released a report on Sunday examining the Sudanese government's efforts to control oil companies operating in the war-torn south of the country.

Titled Sudan, Oil and Human Rights, the report links natural resource exploitation to human rights abuses in Sudan.

Blind eye

The 754-page report says the government has used roads, bridges and oilfields built by the oil companies, to launch attacks on civilians in the southern oil region of the Western Upper Nile.

"Oil companies operating in Sudan were aware of the killing, bombing and looting that took place in the south, all in the name of opening up the oilfields," said Rone.

The Human Rights Watch report, names and shames Canadian, Swedish, Malaysian and Chinese oil companies it says have been responsible for lowering standards of living for people in the south.

Denial

Aljazeera.net contacted one of the oil companies that Human Rights criticises in its report. Swedish company Lundin Oil AB was operating in the south of the country until June 2002 when it withdrew from the region.

Canadian, Swedish, Malaysian and
Chinese companies criticised

Human Rights Watch says Lundin Oil along with a Canadian company Talisman Energy were put under pressure from human rights groups to pull out.

Christine Batruch, spokesperson for Lundin Oil denied any involvement in human rights abuses in Sudan.

"I am very surprised to read the Human Rights Watch report and question the timing of this report. At the moment there are ongoing peace talks to bring an end to the civil war in the country, and they seem to be proving to be successful. I think that this report will open old wounds."

Batruch went on to say that Lundin Oil could not be held responsible for a direct or indirect link to human rights abuses in Sudan, and the company denied all the allegations made against it in the report.

"As a company we have behaved in a responsible manner and decided that we were unwilling to work in an environment such as the one that we found ourselves in. We took stock of the situation and decided to pull out."

Profit

Human Rights Watch says that 60% of the $580 million oil revenue Sudan earned during 2001 was absorbed by the country's military, both for importing weapons and for the domestic arms industry.

"The Sudanese government has used the oil money in conducting scorched-earth campaigns to drive hundreds of thousands of farmers and pastoralists from their homes," says Rone.

Sudan's 20 year civil war has claimed the lives of over 1.5 million people. The country has been torn by the ongoing conflict between the north and the south since independence in 1956.