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Taming Unocal, last try
INTERVIEW-Amnesty rights group to target oil firms
By David Ljunggren
LONDON, May 13 (Reuters) - Amnesty International said on Wednesday it planned to target oil firms in a bid to improve human rights in Algeria, Nigeria, Myanmar and Colombia -- all accused of committing widespread abuses.
Amnesty Secretary-General Pierre Sane said he wanted to cooperate with oil companies working in the four countries but would not hesitate to campaign against the firms if he thought that would be more effective.
"We feel those oil companies have certainly more influence than U.N. bodies, or other governments, because they are really the lifeline in terms of the resources that the regimes need," he told Reuters in an interview.
"And therefore we have to ensure that those companies will join in the effort to improve the human rights situation in those countries...they can't be silent in the front of all these injustices."
Sane said Algeria, Nigeria and Myanmar all had two things in common -- oil and military rulers. Although Columbia is a parliamentary democracy, rebels control 40 percent of the country and the armed forces play a leading role.
"When you combine the two (oil and the military) you are faced with countries that are very very difficult to move in the direction of bowing to international pressure," he said.
Amnesty mounted a campaign against Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. in 1995 after the execution of nine Nigerian minority rights activists, which prompted the company to introduce a code of conduct incorporating human rights.
Amnesty was interested in working with British Petroleum Co in Colombia and with Total SA and Unocal Corp in Myanmar, Sane said, but did not name potential partners in Algeria.
"We don't want to scare big businesses, we don't want to turn them into human rights activists, but we are saying that they have to act responsibly," he said.
"So we will engage in a dialogue with them but that dialogue will be more or less similar to the dialogue we have with governments. On the one hand we sit down and talk but if need be we go to the streets and we shout."
Sane said Amnesty's first step would be to get the commitment of the oil companies to develop codes of conduct and then ensure those codes were implemented under independent supervision.
"I think companies are more and more aware that for their own image...it is important to be seen to be friendly to human rights and not to be seen to be pumping blood money out of countries run by military dictatorships," he said.
Sane expressed disquiet at how little international pressure had been put on Algeria, where an estimated 65,000 people have died since 1992 when the authorities cancelled a general election in which radical Islamists had a commanding lead.
"It's at times very difficult to understand. Maybe we have not been successful enough in mobilising public opinion throughout Europe to force Algeria onto an action agenda," Sane said.
"Somehow it is linked with oil, but that doesn't satisfy me. Algeria has plenty of oil and gas but so does Iraq. So what is so special about Algeria? I'll guess the day we find out we'll crack it."
Although most nations have signed the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, Sane said many powerful states were ignoring their obligations because they were dominated by short-term economic and strategic interests.
"I think if they were to take human rights as seriously as they take the workings of the markets and the need to deregulate and allow capital to move freely around the world, I think we would have certainly made great achievements," he said.