By Joseph Oduha 
June 25, 2019

The government of South Sudan recently made a sweeping commitment: to put an end  to oil pollution in the country – with this especially applying to the areas in and around the oil fields in the north. 

Keleuel Agok, an exiled member of the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders association, has joined the growing ranks of those casting doubt upon the government’s willingness to live up to this commitment. 

Agok pointed out that the government has a track record of making – and then breaking – such commitments.

“The government has long had proof of the widespread contamination of South Sudan’s environment by oil companies – and of this contamination’s effects upon humans, their animals and habitats. Despite this overwhelmingly strong evidence, the government has failed to take the action required to put an end to this environmental nightmare. This failure has condemned the people of South Sudan to living with this contamination’s effects: loss of their health and homes and livelihoods,” Agok states in an exclusive interview with 

The latest of these commitments was made by Agow Daniel, who was recently named South Sudan’s minister of petroleum and mining.

“The new minister’s promise will probably turn out to be as empty as those voiced by his predecessors. The reason why: the government’s only interest is milking the country out of all of its money,” stated Agok, who concluded by issuing the following challenge to the government:

‘Push the companies operating in the oil fields to provide the medical treatment, compensation and remediation required to improve lives.’

In his interview with, Agok reiterated his support of the plea voiced by South Sudan’s human rights defenders in the East African Court of Justice. 

“Should the South Sudan government set forth its refusal to compensate the affected communities,  then human rights defenders in the country should sue the government of South Sudan in regional and international courts,” Agok added. 

John Pen, another leading member of the human rights association, views the cause of the government’s failure to save the environment and people to be a structural one.

“Our new minister has good intentions. He lacks the power to realize them. What is needed is a central institution with the authority to force oil companies to live up to their proprietary and international environmental standards.”

Pen views the Chinese – and specifically China National Petroleum corporation – as being the root of all evils in South Sudan.

“The Chinese are crooked and are laws unto themselves. President Salva Kiir worships them. And as long as this is the case, there will be improvement in South Sudan’s environment and society,” Pen concludes.  

Edit in charge: Terry Swartzberg