The government of South Sudan must immediately issue a moratorium on all new contracts in its oil industry, warns Global Witness in a briefing published today, as peace talks scheduled to reopen in Addis Ababa this week were once again delayed.
As world leaders struggle to find a solution to the violence in the world's newest nation, Global Witness calls on them to join in demanding that South Sudan's leaders call a halt to issuing any new oil deals and suspend any ongoing negotiations.
"Ordinary South Sudanese have seen their country blown apart over the last five months of fighting," said Emma Vickers, South Sudan campaigner. "If President Kiir's government is to ensure that the population's future is not sold as well, it must issue this moratorium."
South Sudan is the world's most oil dependent country, with 98 per cent of government revenue coming from oil sales at independence in 2011. This income was earmarked by the government for the development of the country's economy and infrastructure.
Since the outbreak of conflict, oil revenues have been diverted to finance the war, and there is a real risk that multi-million dollar payments made by companies to secure future projects will also fail to reach the development budget.
New investors also face a chaotic and insecure situation in South Sudan, which threatens to drive down the price the government can secure for remaining oil assets, as well as undermining their ability to attract responsible investors.
"Oil revenues could be instrumental in funding the development of South Sudan and building its schools, hospitals and roads," Vickers added.
"It is critical that the government takes this step to ensure that what remains of the country's oil is used to benefit its citizens when peace returns, rather than squandered on war or sold off on bad terms."
In recent months, oil has fanned the flames of conflict, and triggered a major humanitarian crisis as government and rebel forces have fought for control of South Sudan's most important asset.
The awarding of any new concessions risks a further influx of armed actors to protect them in an already highly militarized and volatile situation. With thousands already dead and 1 million people displaced, the government has a duty to avoid any action that may worsen the violence.
South Sudan's government has spent months developing laws which should ensure that the country's oil sector is not a source of corruption or conflict. However, putting them into practice has taken a back seat as the war has worsened, and the rule of law has weakened.
"The government owes it to South Sudan's citizens to call time on new contracting and to step away from the negotiating table," said Vickers. "Until peace and the rule of law have returned, this is not the time for new deals."
Notes to editors:
Contact: Emma Vickers, South Sudan Campaigner +44 (0)7715 076 548 or +44 (0) 207 492 5838 or Sarah Morrison, Senior Communications Advisor +44 (0)207 492 5840.