Scandinavian states are well known for their distinctive role in international conflict. The timing of this week’s decision by the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, to exclude two Israeli companies amidst recent unrest in the Gaza Strip reminds us of the strict standards Scandinavian countries expect their organisations to adhere to with respect to international peace and human rights.

The exclusion of Shapir Engineering and Mivne Real Estate from the fund’s portfolio was attributed “to unacceptable risk that the companies contribute to systematic violations of individuals’ rights in situations of war or conflict”, owing to the reported construction of buildings in the West Bank. Though the recommendations date from last year , the timing of this decision reminds us that Scandinavia is known for its purveyance of international peace – a tradition which has seen it synonymous with such institutions as the Oslo Accords and the Nobel Peace Prize.

The seriousness with which Scandinavian countries deal with entanglement in international conflict is pronounced. Only the highest standards are expected of their companies, as well as the many companies in which they invest globally. Anything less would be seen as an affront to the norms that Scandinavian societies proudly uphold.

Alongside the Norwegian decision this week, an ongoing investigation by the Swedish Prosecution Authority into alleged “complicity” in alleged crimes by one of its energy companies, Lundin, is in the news ahead of a new decision anticipated next month.

The Swedish Prosecution authority has, for the past 11 years, been in the ‘preliminary’ stages of an investigation into Lundin’s alleged complicity with alleged crimes carried out by the Government of Sudan in the late 1990s. The Prosecutor is shortly due to reach a decision on whether to charge the individuals concerned.

The 11 year delay may be explained, as Steven Kay QC and Rupert Boswall, a Senior Partner of RPC Solicitors argue in a new report published this week, by the fact that the evidence upon which the claims rest is dubious at best. Over the course of some 150 pages, Kay and Boswall provide an in-depth analysis of the NGO allegations on which the investigation was founded. The report criticises the impartiality of the evidence and its basis in fact, arguing that “many of the reports rely on biased and/or anonymous hearsay evidence” as well as “making assertions on the basis of unattributed sources using poor methodology”.

In particular, the report calls into question the reliance by NGOs on the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), a key belligerent in the Sudanese Civil War, for its conclusions. Providing a historical overview of peace and conflict in Sudan, it goes on to assess the various claims of NGOs and other organisations, as well as the reception and evaluation of these claims in international tribunals.

Kay and Boswall are unequivocal in their assertion that the claims which prompted the allegations against Lundin rely on a political narrative perpetuated by the SPLM/A which centred on ‘oil wars’ and ‘religious persecution’, proving ultimately successful in influencing Western religious evangelists and NGOs. Indeed, in his introduction to the new report, Mr. Kay notes:

“It’s very important, once a narrative is established, that we don't believe that the narrative is the truth. The truth is the evidence and the facts.”

Inadmissible evidence in a court of law

Mr. Kay, who has been the leading international criminal defence barrister active at the International Criminal Court for 30 years, believes that the evidence upon which the Swedish Prosecution Authority relies in the Lundin case would not be admissible in an international criminal investigation nor a prosecution. It is for this reason, he argues, that they have been unable to reach a verdict after eleven years.

Additional questions are raised as to the lack of information regarding the conduct of these interviews, the quality of translation, the accuracy of the accounts provided and which protocols, if any, were adhered to when carrying out the interviews, to demonstrate that these allegations rested on dubious foundations from the outset.

The central question, though, is this. How can claims which have been derived from information which is neither testable, nor able to be effectively challenged, carry meaningful weight in a court of law?

Scandinavian nations are finding increasingly innovative routes to peacefully flex their foreign policy muscles. Divestment as a softer form of economic sanction may have a future as a diplomatic lever for those countries with the wealth to support it. Controversial prosecutions, if carried out for political ends, could leave the bloc isolated and exposed in the international community.