TotalEnergies, the prominent French oil corporation, has become the subject of an impending legal battle in Paris. Notably, a total of 26 Ugandans, supported by five notable French and Ugandan charity organizations, have taken the bold step of filing a lawsuit against the energy behemoth. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for alleged human rights abuses that they believe have been perpetrated in association with TotalEnergies’ massive operations in Uganda.
The Ugandans filing the lawsuit hail from areas directly impacted by TotalEnergies’ colossal projects in the country. They argue that the French energy company has infringed on their rights to land and food, causing them “serious harm.” The evidence submitted to the Paris court revolves around the impacts of two major TotalEnergies projects in Uganda.
The first of these contentious projects is the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, a staggering 1,500km pipeline engineered to transport crude oil to the Tanzanian coast. The project notably passes through numerous protected nature reserves. The second project under scrutiny is the Tilenga exploration project, which comprises of 419 oil wells, with a third situated within Uganda’s most extensive national park, Murchison Falls.
The plaintiffs allege that the areas around these projects experienced severe flooding due to work undertaken at the oil treatment facility related to the Tilenga project. Notably, this environmental catastrophe had a considerable impact on the local communities.
Specialists in environmental science and local environmental activists believe that the resultant deforestation left the residents defenseless, directly affecting about 4,000 individuals. The extensive removal of trees, which typically play a significant role in reducing the chances of flooding, is viewed as a primary cause of these flooding events.
The plaintiffs have also claimed that their property rights have been egregiously violated. For a duration of three to four years, they allege that they were deprived of free access to their land due to the company’s operations.
Furthermore, it has been reported that the duo of TotalEnergies’ projects have led to total or partial expropriation of land, directly affecting more than 118,000 individuals. These allegations have raised significant concern over the corporate ethics of the energy giant and its adherence to the principles of sustainable development and human rights.
Evidence supporting these allegations has been gathered and presented by environmental non-profit organization 350.org in their report “EACOP: A Crude Reality.” This includes personal testimonies from the communities directly impacted by TotalEnergies’ mega projects. Disturbingly, some community members have reported losing their family homes, claiming they were denied the option of resettlement and were instead forced to accept cash compensation.
TotalEnergies, under the leadership of CEO Patrick Pouyanne, defended their projects in Uganda and Tanzania against criticism. Pouyanne asserts that the projects are “low-cost and low-carbon” and have been launched with a strong commitment to exemplary sustainability. He also mentioned that affected villagers had been offered a choice between replacement housing and cash compensation.
In 2022, a delegation of climate activists from Uganda and Tanzania embarked on a trip to Europe. They aimed to raise awareness about the catastrophic impacts of the EACOP project on their local environments and communities among policymakers, faith leaders, and financiers. Their cause was backed by climate activists from Europe and around the globe, joining forces to demand climate justice.
Remarkably, the #StopEACOP campaign has already made significant strides. More than 30 financial institutions worldwide have officially announced their decision to abstain from supporting the project. Despite this, the campaign continues to pressure funders and potential financiers who are contributing to the acceleration of the climate crisis. They aim to prevent further destruction of biodiversity and protected areas, which they believe leads to human rights abuses. The battle between TotalEnergies and those seeking climate justice continues, with the world watching closely.