Ugandans sue TotalEnergies in France, accusing it of human rights violations

Twenty-six Ugandans sued French oil giant TotalEnergies in Paris on Tuesday June 27 for reparations over alleged human rights violations at its megaprojects across the country.

Joined by five Ugandan and French aid groups, the Ugandan people from the affected communities say the French energy firm TotalEnergies caused “serious harm”, especially to their rights to land and food.

At the heart of their complaint at the Paris court are two vast TotalEnergies developments: the Tilenga exploration of 419 oil wells, one-third of them in Uganda’s largest national park Murchison Falls, and EACOP, a 1,500-kilometre (930-mile) pipeline bringing crude oil to the Tanzanian coast through several protected nature reserves. The activists say that more than 118,000 people have had their land wholly or partially expropriated because of the two TotalEnergies projects, including through sales allegedly agreed under intimidation.

One of the activists, Maxwell Athura, told at their Paris press conference on Tuesday June 27 that he had faced “threats and intrusions at his home” from the group, and was “arbitrarily arrested twice in 2022”.

Friends of the Earth France spokeswoman Juliette Renaud said: “What we’re asking of the tribunal is to recognize Total’s civil responsibility and sentence the company to compensate the people affected by violations.” A company spokeswoman explained that “TotalEnergies welcomes a debate on the facts in court.”

She added that the company “believes its plan for surveillance (of possible rights violations) is in line with legal requirements” and “implemented effectively” by its subsidiaries in Tanzania and Uganda.

Major rights’ violations

On the ground, people affected by the work “have been deprived of free use of their land for three or four years, in violation of their property rights”, the French and Ugandan associations said in a statement. This “deprived them of their means of subsistence” and led to “serious food shortages” for some families,” the statement added. Some received in-kind compensation, while others were offered financial terms “far short” of what was needed. Other villages suffered flooding caused by construction at the Tilenga project’s oil treatment plant, the associations alleged.

Additionally, “several plaintiffs suffered threats, harassment and arrest simply for daring to criticize oil projects in Uganda and Tanzania and defend the rights of affected communities,” they added. Two of these activists, Jelousy Mugisha and Fred Mwesigwa, already travelled to France in 2019 to require that Total should watch out for potential rights violations. “When they returned to Uganda one was arrested at the airport and the other attacked at his home 10 days later,” the NGOs said.

“By falling short in its duty of vigilance, Total caused serious harm to the plaintiffs, especially to their rights to land and food. They are therefore requesting the company be ordered to compensate them,” the statement continued.

International protests

At the same time, on Tuesday, climate protesters from Stop the Oil targeted the oil company UK headquarters in London. EACOP was also the target of the campaigners, who sprayed orange and black paint on the facade and lobby of TotalEnergies’ UK headquarters in the Canary Wharf financial district. British Police said 27 people were arrested in the demonstration by the Just Stop Oil group against both the pipeline’s effect on local communities and its projected greenhouse emissions of 379 million tons of carbon.

TotalEnergies responded in a statement that it “fully respects the right to demonstrate and freedom of expression, but deplores all forms of violence, whether verbal, physical or material”.


Posted by on Jul 13 2023. Filed under African News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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