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Lawsuit

27 Jun 2023

TotalEnergies lawsuit (re reparations of damages caused by Tilenga and EACOP projects in Uganda and Tanzania)

Status: ONGOING

Date lawsuit was filed
27 Jun 2023
Unknown
Human rights group, Human Rights Defender
Location of Filing: France
Location of Incident: TanzaniaUganda
Type of Litigation: Transnational

Companies

TotalEnergies (formerly Total) France Oil, gas & coal, Energy

Sources

Snapshot: In June 2023, members of communities affected by TotalEnergies' projects in Uganda and Tanzania, as well as five French and Ugandan organisations filed a lawsuit in France against TotalEnergies based on the Duty of Vigilance Law. The claimants seek reparations for harms such as violation of property rights concerning the land on which the pipeline will be built, food shortages as well as damage to houses from flooding caused by the construction of oil processing facilities. Total denies these claims. The case is ongoing.

Factual background

The Tilenga project consists of oil fields and petroleum wells in Uganda. This oil will be transported in a pipeline that will run 1,443 kilometres from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to the port of Tanga in Tanzania. From there, the oil will be sold around the world. The pipeline is named the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), of which TotalEnergies holds a 62% stake. This project is estimated to cost $3.5 billion. According to Total, environmental and social impact assessments have been carried out, as both the Tilenga oil fields as well as the pipeline require land acquisition programmes.

Total is implementing the Tilenga and EACOP projects mainly through two subsidiaries, TotalEnergies E&P Uganda and TotalEnergies EACOP Holding, and various subcontractors, notably Atacama and Newplan for the "land acquisition and relocation" process for the affected communities. According to the French duty of vigilance law, TotalEnergies as the parent company is also liable for the companies it controls directly or indirectly and those of sub-contractors and suppliers with whom it has an "established commercial relationship".

A similar lawsuit against TotalEnergies was filed in 2019 using a fast-tracked procedure. It argued that the company failed to comply with the duty of vigilance law in their oil project in Uganda. This lawsuit was aimed at obliging Total to update its vigilance plan and to put in place measures to ensure that violations would not occur. This lawsuit was dismissed on procedural grounds in February 2023.

Legal Argument

The plaintiffs – 26 members of communities, human rights defender Maxwell Atuhura and five French and Ugandan civil society organisations (AFIEGO, Friends of the Earth France, NAPE/Friends of the Earth Uganda, Survie and TASHA Research Institute) – filed the lawsuit under the 2017 French Duty of Vigilance law. They argue that there is a causal link between TotalEnergies’ failures in developing and implementing the vigilance plan, and the harms suffered by communities. The plaintiffs thereby claim that the company should be subject to civil liability for not identifying the human rights abuses linked to its project or by not preventing or mitigating them.

The claimants seek compensation for alleged human rights violations which have occurred in the process of the construction of the pipeline – one of which is the alleged infringement on the land rights of 86 000 people. Affected communities have said that they were not compensated for giving up their land and were put under pressure to sign documents they did not understand.

Furthermore, affected communities stated that the construction of the Tilenga project led to flooding of agricultural land in 2022 and 2023, with water coming from the building sites and was therefore polluted, causing an environmental safety hazard. Plaintiffs argue that although the flooding was foreseeable, Total did not prevent it.

Several members of affected communities also testified that they were intimidated, threatened and even arrested when publicly criticizing or participating in the legal action against TotalEnergies.

Total states that its subsidiaries respect the rights of local communities and biodiversity.

Legal proceeding

In June 2023, 26 members of communities, human rights defender Maxwell Atuhura and five French and Ugandan civil society organisations (AFIEGO, Friends of the Earth France, NAPE/Friends of the Earth Uganda, Survie and TASHA Research Institute) filed the lawsuit against Total Energies in France. They allege that the company did not comply with its legal obligations, and failed to protect communities and the environment in its Tilenga and EACOP projects. Total denies these claims. The case is ongoing.

News items

France: Activists sue TotalEnergies again over its projects in Uganda, Reuters, 27 Jun 2023

NGOs

France : Ugandan communities sue oil giant TotalEnergies, Friends of the Earth France, 27 Jun 2023

Timeline