Canada can make a difference in Darfur
Thu 19 Jun 2008
Section: Issues & Ideas
Byline: Yoine Goldstein
Source: National Post
Since 2003, more than 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur. Chronic violence and instability have also displaced 2.3 million people in the region, one million of whom are children. Looting and attacks on civilians are commonplace, and it is estimated that thousands of women and girls have been raped. Most of this unimaginable suffering has been inflicted against Darfuri civilians by their own government or by its proxies. Canada can facilitate change in the Sudanese government’s intransigence through the strategic use of contract prohibition.
Contract prohibition can take several forms, but broadly speaking, it would place restrictions on the types of companies that can bid on government contracts or on the development of Canada’s natural resources, like petroleum reserves. By requiring foreign companies that are eager to invest in Canada to meet certain minimum human rights standards, we would create a powerful incentive for them to end human rights abuses elsewhere.
In Sudan, for example, foreign oil companies like the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) and the Oil and Natural Gas Company of India (ONGC) have been implicated in severe human rights abuses, including forced displacement of local populations and the suppression of protests. The Sudan Divestment Task Force lists these companies among the worst corporate offenders in Sudan. Moreover, revenues from their operations provide the government of Sudan with funding for attacks on civilians in Darfur, and allow the regime to resist outside economic pressure. A former Sudanese finance minister once estimated that 70% of his government’s oil profits go toward military expenditures. Imposing restrictions on these revenues would greatly diminish the Sudanese government’s capacity to wage war on its own citizens.
How would such restrictions be imposed? The government of Sudan lacks the capital and the expertise required to fully exploit its own oil resources, and is heavily reliant on foreign investment and expertise for resource development. In 2002, Human Rights Watch reported that oil profits made up 45% of the Sudanese government’s total revenues. In 2003, that number rose to 57%. The price of oil has increased since then, as has production. This means corporate entities like CNPC and ONGC are remarkably well-placed to influence decisions made in Khartoum.
Canada is ideally positioned to modify the behaviour of some of the largest oil companies operating in Sudan. In fact, we have more leverage over them than most other industrialized countries because we have something valuable that they desperately want — more oil. CNPC has a controlling stake in 11 oil blocks, which cover 258 square kilo-metres in the Alberta oilsands. It also lists participation in eight other oil blocks in Alberta and Saskatchewan. ONGC has expressed a strong interest in the Alberta oilsands and is currently considering an investment of roughly $1-billion. The Economic Times reported on May 20 that ONGC Videsh — the foreign investment arm of ONGC — is negotiating a takeover of an as-yet unidentified Canadian oil company, to cement a strategic position in the North American energy market.
Clearly, both CNPC and ONGC want access to Canadian oil. We should exploit this interest by adopting a contract prohibition model that requires these companies, and others like them, to meet minimum human rights standards in their operations abroad if they want access to Canadian natural resources. Simply put, the privilege of receiving Canadian contracts and developing Canadian resources should not be extended to companies that help fund genocide.
This is not a radical idea, nor is it unprecedented. At the end of 2007, American President George W. Bush signed into law the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act, which requires companies seeking contracts with the U. S. federal government to certify that they are not helping the Sudanese government to commit genocide. This legislation was adopted unanimously in both chambers of Congress, and several U. S. states are also considering the introduction of contract prohibition. We should follow this legislative example.
Our extensive oil reserves give us a unique kind of leverage. Contract prohibition would have a posi -tive impact abroad, and on the perception of Canada by our allies and friends. Of greater importance, it would serve as an example to other nations that economic realities can be vested with an ethical component, and that principled government activity can make a difference. – Senator Yoine Goldstein is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity.