Ugandan human rights defender Maxwell Atuhura, five French and Ugandan NGO’s (AFIEGO, Friends of the Earth France, NAPE/Friends of the Earth Uganda, Survie and TASHA Research Institute) alongside 26 civilians, have launched a new legal action in France on Tuesday against oil giant TotalEnergies for the alleged damage caused by its controversial oil mega projects in Uganda.
The accusers seek compensation from the multinational French corporation as the Tilenga oil drilling project and the EACOP (East African Crude Oil Pipeline) project are what they consider a direct cause of "human rights violations".
The EACOP is a 1,500 km heated pipeline to the Tanzanian coast, crossing several protected natural areas.
"This time it is an action for compensation because the human rights violations caused by its Tilenga and EACOP projects, which the first legal action launched in 2019 (in France) aimed to prevent, have now been released due to the lack of a rapid judicial decision on the heart of the matter", underlines a statement from the NGOs.
A press conference was held in Paris on Tuesday to announce this legal action, in the presence of these associations and several of the Ugandan plaintiffs, who denounced "violations" and "harassment".
"Total has caused serious harm to the plaintiffs, particularly with regard to their rights to land and food. They therefore request that Total be ordered to compensate them," the statement added.
"It is unacceptable that foreign oil companies continue to make super-profits while the communities affected by their projects in Uganda are harassed, displaced, poorly compensated and living in abject poverty on their own land", said Frank Muramuzi, Executive Director of NAPE/Friends of the Earth Uganda, in the statement.
According to these NGOs, more than 118,000 people in Uganda and Tanzania are affected by total or partial expropriation as a result of the two projects.
Because of Tilenga and EACOP, people "have been deprived of the free use of their land for more than three or four years", the statement said. This has led to the "deprivation of their means of subsistence, and therefore to situations of serious food shortages" in some families.
Back in February, the Paris Civil court had dismissed a landmark case filed by nearly the same NGO’s against TotalEnergies arguing that the NGOs’ case could not be admitted because their current claims were “substantially different from the claims” made in the initial formal notice sent to the defendant.
In addition, from 2022 onwards, "the land of certain villages has been heavily impacted by repeated flooding caused by the construction of the Tilenga project's petroleum processing plant (CPF)", the statement adds.
"Several applicants have been threatened, harassed and arrested simply because they dared to criticise the oil projects in Uganda and Tanzania and defend the rights of the affected communities", the NGOs also denounce.
This legal action comes almost a week after the Paris ‘Summit for a New Global Financing Pact', during which African leaders underlined how western countries failed to respect financial commitments for climate change.
Many hoped, the French summit, would set the tone for meaningful progress on climate finance ahead of this year’s COP28 climate conference in Dubai.
Hopefully better progress shall be made during the African Climate week and the African Climate Action Summit (4-6 September), both hosted by Kenya.
William Ruto met with Dr. Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), COP28 President-Designate last Tuesday (june 20th).
In a joint statement, the leaders had called for continued action on climate crisis, stating: "Climate change is one of the greatest challenges confronting the world today. Both the African Climate Action Summit and COP28 will be critical milestones in the year of the Global Stock take for the international community to come together and provide a solutions-oriented path forward."