New evidence has emerged on the devastating human rights impact of French fossil fuel giant TotalEnergies’ destructive oil and gas pipeline project in Uganda. On Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Ugandan authorities of harassing, arresting and beating activists and demonstrators protesting the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
Activists and non-profits fight the EACOP project
TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation are joint venture partners on the $10-billion project to develop oilfields in Uganda.
The project involves fossil fuel companies drilling around 400 oil wells in Murchison Falls National Park. Notably, this is the largest protected area in Uganda. The companies will then transport the crude along the 1,445-kilometre (900-mile) EACOP to the Tanzanian port of Tanga.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has hailed the project as an economic boon. However, environmental and human rights organisations and activists have been fiercely opposing the project. The Canary has documented a number of these actions.
In February for instance, after the Tanzanian government greenlit the project, campaigners hosted a global day of action against it. Activists from the #StopEACOP movement targeted financial institutions linked to the project.
Then, in June we reported on the coalition of nonprofits taking the fossil fuel giant to court in Paris.
Moreover, activists have continued to keep up the heat. In August, campaigners from multiple organisations staged protests outside the offices of a number of the project’s potential insurers.
Ultimately, the numerous actions have called out EACOP’s shocking environmental and human rights impacts. As the Canary‘s Tracy Keeling has detailed, the project threatens nearly 2,000km² of biodiverse protected wildlife habitats.
Moreover, the Parliament of the European Union has estimated that the project could displace over 100,000 people.
To make matters worse, the Canary highlighted a Business and Human Rights Resource Centre report which singled out TotalEnergies for the impacts of EACOP on environmental defenders. In particular, attacks on rights defenders associated with the project placed TotalEnergies within the top five worst companies for these types of human rights violations.
Now, HRW’s new findings has built on this picture.
Crackdown against EACOP opponents
Its new report is entitled ‘Working On Oil is Forbidden’: Crackdown Against Environmental Defenders in Uganda. In it, HRW have documented the Ugandan government’s crackdown on freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. Moreover, the non-profit identified the repeated harassment, arbitrary arrests, and unlawful detention that authorities have subjected environmental defenders to for opposing the project.
HRW interviewed 31 people across Uganda and Tanzania between March and September 2023. This included 21 activists fighting the project from Uganda.
John Kaheero Mugisa is the former head of the Oil and Gas Human Rights Defenders Association, which is pushing for fair compensation for those displaced. Mugisa told HRW he was arrested several times and his health had deteriorated after seven months in prison.
Meanwhile, activists working in Uganda’s capital Kampala as well as Buliisa and Hoima – the two towns closest to the oilfields – said police raided their offices in 2021.
One activist told HRW:
Most of us limit our work because of pressure and threats from our local officials. We fear arrest and losing our livelihood
Moreover, police have issued threats against community members speaking out against their displacement for the project. Jealousy Mugisha travelled to France for a court hearing and said he was detained and interrogated for hours after returning to Uganda.
He told HRW that government security agents at the airport warned him:
You are not supposed to witness in France again. If you go again, you will lose your life.
A ‘chilling environment’ on human rights
Additionally, HRW also interviewed students police had arrested at demonstrations.
One of those HRW interviewed said security detained him during a protest in June at Uganda’s parliament. He explained to HRW that uniformed parliamentary security officials and others used:
batons, gun butts, and… their boots to step on our heads.
Senior environment researcher at HRW Felix Horne said of the findings that:
This crackdown has created a chilling environment that stifles free expression about one of the most controversial fossil fuel projects in the world. The government of Uganda should immediately end arbitrary arrests of anti-oil pipeline activists and protect their right to exercise freedom of expression, in accordance with international human rights norms
Of course, the repression of environmental defenders against the project reflects a global trend. In May, the French police suppressed protestors blocking the entrance to the fossil fuel major’s annual general meeting (AGM). As the Canary‘s Glen Black reported, the police curtailed the protest aggressively by:
firing teargas into the crowd. Videos on social media also appeared to show officers using pepper spray and physically assaulting people
Moreover, the London’s Met police used the UK’s new draconian anti-protest legislation on Just Stop Oil activists on Monday 30 October. The Guardian reported that:
Pictures and video circulated by the campaign showed officers kneeling on and handcuffing protesters, and carrying them into waiting police vans.
The activists were protesting the UK’s latest announcement of new offshore oil and gas licences, which it also announced on Monday. The government awarded TotalEnergies three of the 64 newly licensed blocks.
The fight continues against profiteering fossil fuel companies
Of course, HRW’s new damning report has arrived a week on from TotalEnergies third quarter profits announcement. On 26 October, the French fossil fuel giant posted $6.5bn in profits. The results took its shareholder pay-outs for 2023 to $11.9bn.
So, activists from across the world are keeping up the fight against the climate-wrecking profiteer – and in solidarity with communities and environmental defenders fighting the project.
On Friday 3 November, campaigners from a new coalition will begin a series of over 200 actions across multiple continents. Led by 350.org, the ‘Power Up’ coalition are demanding that governments make big polluter pay up to finance a just energy transition to renewables.
Kicking off the campaign in multiple cities across Europe, activists plan to stage a neon-lit parade on bicycles, roller skates and skateboards from TotalEnergies’ headquarters to the French Parliament district. Youth climate activist Pascal Mirindi from the Democratic Republic of Congo will speak on the devastating impacts of the EACOP project on communities in Africa.
Feature image via Reuters/Youtube screengrab.
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse.
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