The road back to the victims is so long

Carl Bildt and Ian Lundin should travel to South Sudan and ask for forgiveness. On Egbert Wesselink’s part a reconciliation process with Christian overtones weighs more heavily than accusations of crimes under international law in a Swedish court.


The index finger on his left hand is bandaged and on top he has a pink Hello Kitty plaster. Otherwise Egbert Wesselink is dressed as is customary. It is a matter of giving a professional impression at Lundin Petroleum’s AGM.


Exposing the company’s transgressions in South Sudan by means of a detailed report has not helped, and that is why he has gone into the lion’s den. Buying shares was not an investment, but a ticket of admission to the AGM.


It will soon be 12 years since the church meeting in Sudan, the starting gun for what in Sweden led to detailed reports on the moral guilt of an oil company, and the involvement of our Foreign Minister.


At the church meeting in 2000 the Christian Sudanese asked for help from their partners in Europe, and the next year the organisation ECOS was formed. It is basically a small organisation, but with a large network around it. More than 50 organisations have given their support, and two thirds of those are explicitly Christian, including the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation (Kristna fredsrörelsen) and the Swedish Church.


On behalf of ECOS Egbert Wesselink took part in the investigation into what happened in the oilfields between 1997 and 2003. In 2010 came the report Unpaid Debt, in which serious accusations were directed at several oil companies who were active in the middle of a raging civil war. 12,000 died and 160,000 people were driven out on the heels of the oil companies, according to ECOS’ calculations.


But it is only in Sweden that it has really taken off. For obvious reasons.


There is not only an oil company here whose name can be blackened, but there is also a top politician involved in the preliminary investigation by the international prosecutor’s office into crimes under international law. Carl Bildt sat on the board of Lundin Petroleum during the war years right up until the Reinfeldt government called and Bildt became Foreign Minister.


Justice for ordinary people


The crowd of journalists at Lundin Petroleum’s AGM last week indicated the bone that had been thrown to the Swedish media. Egbert Wesselink has, however, not come to Sweden to put Carl Bildt on the spot.


“We want justice for ordinary people,” he says.


“The people in South Sudan do not care a lot about the outcome of a Swedish judicial process.”


So what is it that Carl Bildt, Ian Lundin and others involved in Lundin’s oil adventures should do? Egbert Wesselink’s request is as controversial as it is simple. They should manage the situation in the classic Christian manner.


“You confess, you repent and you open up to atonement,” he says.


So what, for example, should Carl Bildt do?


“He should go down to see the government in Sudan and say that we, the Kingdom of Sweden, have failed to protect human rights. We have a debt to pay. What would you like us to do? He should go there with an open hand and say he is sorry. And he will be welcomed. If Ian Lundin goes there and says he is sorry he will be feted; people will be happy. But as things are now, it seems impossible to combine business with human rights,” says Egbert Wesselink.


No proposal is passed.


He himself is a Catholic, and a member of the Catholic peace movement IKV Pax Christi. ECOS is not a Christian organisation, but has countless links to churches worldwide. The idea of reconciliation is also in line with the Christian tradition, says Egbert Wesselink.


It is only a few hours before the AGM is due to begin. Of course he is hopeful, but also realistic. He is aware that none of the proposals he has put forward will be voted through.

But Egbert Wesselink considers that, even if the proposals are voted down, it is still important to stress the moral aspects.


“I hope the management come to realise that they cannot escape their responsibilities. The future of the company is dependent on how they manage their past.”


Some hours later, at the AGM that has drawn so much attention, Egbert Wesselink is one of those who speak to criticise Lundin Petroleum.


“Discredits his critics”


The critic who subsequently gets the biggest headlines is, however, the journalist Kerstin Lundell. She has long been a critic of the Lundin Group, in for example the book Affärer i blod och olja (“Business in blood and oil”, whose title is incidentally taken from an article in the newspaper Dagen).


Her critical address is interrupted when the microphone is brusquely snatched from her, with Ian Lundin’s comment to the media that she was “full of false accusations”. Egbert Wesselink was however allowed to finish, and was applauded by a small group at the meeting. He considers, however, that the tactics of company management were poor.


“They did not want to answer questions, but instead made an effort to discredit their critics, and also called into question me as an individual.

I think this says something about how emotionally involved they are. The management is too personally involved in this to be able to manage it professionally.”


The news in the papers the following day is that the critical votes of those who wished to see an investigation into the company’s Sudan adventure, was over 20%. Egbert Wesselink, and his colleague Kathelijne Schenkel, are however sitting in front of their computer and calculating very different figures.


Because it was expected that the proposal for an independent enquiry would be voted down. The Lundin family is itself the largest shareholder, and of all of those people with voting rights who attended the AGM they represented 57%; they were therefore themselves in the majority.


Even struggle between the shareholders


But among the other shareholders it appears that there was an even struggle. Kathelijne Schenkel discovers that 51.2% outside the Lundin Group voted in favour of an enquiry.


“Brilliant,” comments Egbert Wesselink.


Perhaps a small step forward for the little organisation ECOS, which, like David, has taken on Goliath. And their objective is not to see the Lundin family behind bars. The task from the church meeting in 2000 remains. ECOS is to help people in South Sudan and that is more than digging into the past.


“The situation today is very problematic,” says Egbert Wesselink.


The oil industry in South Sudan has been completely shut down, and the reason is the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. There oil companies are sending their coworkers home, and South Sudan is on the brink of bankruptcy.


Kathelijne Schenkel from ECOS is today an adviser to the government of South Sudan on oil issues, and she also works together with the Sudanese church council.


“The churches are the biggest actors in civil society, and oil is an important subject within the churches, as they have seen the devastation it brings for people,” she says.


Plenty of problems


There are plenty of problems to deal with. What should South Sudan do with its oil so as not to destroy even more of its population? And how should they manage their bloody past? These are questions ECOS is involved in.


In this light the three-day trip to Stockholm was just a small part of a longer journey. Making one’s voice heard at the Lundin Petroleum AGM is one way of giving a voice to poor South Sudanese. The preliminary investigation into the Swedish company is important, but it is not the final goal.


They do not want the heads of Bildt and Lundin on a plate, but redress for the weak.

“The road back to the victims is so long. It is frustrating,” says Kathelijne Schenkel.




ECOS stands for European Coalition on Oil in Sudan


Lundin Petroleum was previously called Lundin Oil, but in the texts the companies current name is used consistently.



Indictment of Lundin


The report Unpaid debt to a preliminary criminal investigation into Lundin Petroleum.


The investigation will probably take several years.


Possible crimes are crimes under international law or war crimes.


In a Swedish court this may result in up to 4 years imprisonment.