Company representatives demanded military interventions by abusive armed forces
Victims hopeful that justice will be done
“Impunity and disregard for victims has been among the root causes of perpetuating violence in South Sudan”
Rev. James Kuong Ninrew, Juba.
The Swedish Prosecution Authority has presented evidence that the chairman and main shareholder of Lundin Energy, Ian H. Lundin, caused and contributed to massive war crimes in South Sudan, together with his fellow director and former CEO Alex Schneiter. Their crimes were entirely due to their roles within the company. The Prosecution has formally charged them with aiding and abetting international atrocity crimes, and will in addition seek forfeiture of SEK 1,4 billion in criminally obtained profits from Lundin Energy itself. The charges concern war crimes by Sudanese military and local militias between 1999 and 2003, who acted on demands from the suspects to secure Lundin’s operations. The suspects knew that these military and militia’s routinely commited war crimes, including intentionally attacking civilians, spreading terror, using starvation as a warfare tactic, massive forced displacement, and the use of child soldiers. An estimated 12.000 people perished due to the war for control over Lundin’s concession area. Not since the Nuremberg trials have corporate executives been indicted for such grave crimes. The 230 pages indictment paints a picture of a company that was indifferent to human suffering.
The trial is of great significance to South Sudan where it will be keenly watched. War crimes have been routinely committed during and after Sudan’s civil war, but nobody has been brought to justice and victims have been denied their right to redress. There can be no peace in South Sudan without justice. The trial offers communities in Lundin’s concession area an opportunity to be recognised and hear the truth in public.
A crucial question is whether the trial will result in satisfaction for the people who have been harmed and who claim their right to remedy and reparation. Lundin has never shown an interest in their fate. It robustly defends its own self-interest and, contrary to the UN Guiding Principles, disregards its adverse human rights impacts. This position is supported by the vast majority of its shareholders, including many with human rights policies that are squarely at odds with Lundin’s actions.
The Swedish court may rule that the suspects compensate court witnesses, but it cannot oblige the company to provide redress to the tens of thousands of others who have been harmed. They can only hope that shareholders take notice of the evidence of criminal misconduct and request that the company reconciliates with harmed communities. Ian H. Lundin has announced that he will step down in March 2021. The Board of Directors and the senior management defend the company’s Sudanese legacy. They show no interest in addressing the company’s violent past or to reach out to the people that it harmed. A change of company policy will therefore require a full overhaul of its management.
It is hard to underestimate the international significance of the Lundin trial. It is extremely difficult to bring charges under international jurisdiction and the Swedish Prosecution Authority has shown an admirable steadfastness. The investigation is an exemplary and rare effort to make a business enterprise account for its role in human rights abuses. It is quite unique that a listed company is charged with complicity in international atrocity crimes and the case cannot be resonate in the corporate boardrooms. Businesses are increasingly held legally liable for damaging people and the planet and the Lundin trial will reinforce that trend as it raises several fundamental questions that may redefine legal standards and encourage other prosecutors to take up similar cases.
The war brought Lundin Petroleum a fortune that it invested in Norway, after which it became the multi-billion dollar business that it is today. Meanwhile, the victims of the crimes that Lundin arguably benefited from have been denied their right to remedy and reparation. The indictment shows that Lundin has systemically hidden the truth from the public and its shareholders. It is time for Lundin Energy’s shareholders to show that they are not indifferent to war crimes by requiring remedy of victims and replacing the company’s management. The Governments of Norway and Sweden are to notify the company and its shareholders that continued neglect of its human rights duties will have severe consequences.