While the government of Sudan is rejoicing these days over the crude oil it began exporting in late August, oil revenues may be fueling Sudan's protracted and bloody civil war.
The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (RLC) is the latest to add its voice to the mounting protest against Talisman Energy, which owns a 25 percent share of the multinational conglomerate that is pumping oil from southern Sudan. The RLC has written both to the president of the Calgary, Alberta-based company and to Canada's minister of foreign affairs, Lloyd Axworthy.
In addition, the Canadian Inter-Church Coalition on Africa (ICCAF) has been negotiating with Talisman president James Buckee and with the Canadian government for about a year. ICCAF coordinator Gary Kenny says the government could use legislation to stop Talisman from operating in Sudan. But David Kilgour, Canada's secretary of state for Africa and a Presbyterian, says there are no measures that can be used without cutting off Canada's humanitarian aid to the African nation.
Talisman president Buckee is quick to return calls from human-rights organizations and church groups, but slow to admit there is a problem with drilling in Sudan. He does not believe there is a slave trade in Sudan, or that there is persecution of Christians. "It looked fine to me," he says of a visit to the drilling area. But just in case of attack from rebels, he notes, the Sudanese army is standing guard at the pipeline.
For some Christians, the issue is complicated because their denominations own shares of Talisman stock. So far, the dozen Canadian churches and organizations holding shares have tried repeatedly to get the company to follow strict standards in its dealings with Sudan. The company has refused.
Kenny believes the church groups—which include the United Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and the Presbyterian Church (USA)—should pull out. "The only morally defensible thing to do is to divest," he says.
Charles Jacobs, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group, agrees. On October 4, Jacobs and Freedom House asked the New York City Council to get rid of its shares—which the council holds through investment and retirement funds. "Should the retirement money of New York City's workers help fund another terror bombing here? Or more slave raids?" he asked.
New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi is considering a plan to divest the city pension fund's $4 million stake in Talisman. Hevesi told the council that the city "should declare a sense of outrage at the loss of life, the massacres and the rapes that are everyday policy for the Sudanese government."
Hevesi also wrote to Talisman president Buckee with his concerns about human-rights abuses. "As long-term investors, we believe a company that is cavalier about its moral and social responsibility presents an unacceptable investment risk," he wrote. "The expanding divestment campaign against Talisman Energy for alleged complicity in the horrors in Sudan is just one indication of that risk."
The divestment campaign is spreading. The U.S. Committee for Refugees has called for a worldwide campaign to divest stock in Talisman until the company agrees to cease its partnership with the Sudanese government. Executive director Roger P. Winter says Talisman "has put profit before human life in its partnership with the Government of Sudan and the state-owned oil companies of China and Malaysia."
According to the American Anti-Slavery Group, the group with the largest stake in Talisman is Capital Research and Management Company with more than three million shares.
Other groups holding shares include State Street Research and Management Company, State of New Jersey Division of Investment, Vanguard Specialized Energy Portfolio, State of Wisconsin Investment Board, Fidelity Canadian Asset Allocation Fund, Fidelity True North Fund, College Retirement Stock Account, and State Street Research Global Resource Fund.
The issue of slavery, and especially slave redemption, has become controversial. An estimated 2 million people have died in Sudan since 1983, and thousands have been abducted and sold as chattel slaves. Numerous documented reports exist of tortures, rapes, village bombings, and even crucifixions.
While some Christian groups support and participate in the redemption of slaves, others feel the money paid to slave traders only helps acquire more slaves and buy more weapons (CT, Aug. 9, 1999, p. 28).
Just days after the September 27 season premiere of Touched by an Angel, which portrayed the slavery in Sudan, the Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International purchased the freedom of 4,300 African slaves, bringing to 15,447 the total number of slaves it has redeemed since 1995. The slaves, mainly women and children, returned to their families in the south.
Meanwhile, the Anglican Church of Canada has released a statement that redemption programs are not the solution, because "participating in the buying of human beings contradicts our faith in the incarnation and belief that all persons are created in the image of God."
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