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Second Circuit dismisses Sudan human rights suit against oil explorers

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that a lawsuit against Canadian oil exploration company Talisman Energy [corporate website] for alleged human rights violations in Sudan should be dismissed. The court affirmed the lower court's finding [opinion, PDF] that the plaintiffs, including the Presbyterian Church of Sudan, failed to establish that Talisman acted with the purpose of aiding the Sudanese government's violations of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The suit was originally brought in 2001 under the Alien Tort Claims Act [text] and claimed that the company supported the government's creation of buffer zones around its oil fields, resulting in the displacement of civilians. Ruling that complicity in the government's actions was not enough for the case to proceed, the court reasoned that:

[P]laintiffs must establish that Talisman acted with the purpose to assist the Government's violations of customary international law. Plaintiffs have provided evidence that the Government violated customary international law; but they provide no evidence that Talisman acted with the purpose to support the Government's offenses. Plaintiffs do not suggest in their briefs that Talisman was a partisan in regional, religious, or ethnic hostilities, or that Talisman acted with the purpose to assist persecution. To the contrary, the actions of the Sudanese government threatened the security of the company’s operations, tarnished its reputation, angered its employees and management, and ultimately forced Talisman to abandon the venture.

Additionally, the court upheld the exclusion of certain evidence including information about the relationship between the Sudanese government's oil profits and military spending. The lower court excluded the evidence because there was no sufficient support to find that Talisman directed its royalty payments to the government's procurement of armaments, even though a jury could find that Talisman believed such revenue was going towards weaponry.

Control of revenues derived from Sudan's oil-producing Abyei region was one of the factors that contributed to the country's violent civil war. In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) [official website] in The Hague issued an order [text, PDF; JURIST report] redrawing the boundaries of the Abyei region. The borders had been disputed by the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) [group website] and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) [party website]. Both parties have said they will abide [VOA report] by the court's decision. A peace deal between the government and the SPLM was reached in late 2004, while a comprehensive peace deal, which also covered the country's Darfur region, was signed in early 2005 [JURIST reports].

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