In Uganda, HRW denounces repression against opponents of TotalEnergies megaproject

The Ugandan authorities are responsible for harassment, arbitrary arrests and beatings against opponents of the oil megaproject led by TotalEnergies in this country, accuses the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report published Thursday, November 2

In Uganda, HRW denounces repression against opponents of TotalEnergies megaproject

The Ugandan authorities are responsible for harassment, arbitrary arrests and beatings against opponents of the oil megaproject led by TotalEnergies in this country, accuses the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report published Thursday, November 2.

This megaproject from the French group, which was the subject of a $10 billion investment agreement with Uganda, Tanzania and the Chinese company Cnooc, includes the drilling of 419 wells in the west of Uganda – a third of which is in the Murchison Falls Nature Park – and the construction of a 1,443 kilometer oil pipeline to connect them to the Tanzanian coast.

Defended by President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda with an iron fist since 1986, this program meets opposition from environmental defenders, who believe that it threatens the fragile ecosystem and the populations of the region. “Environmental defenders (…) regularly face arbitrary arrests, harassment and threats,” says HRW.

Among the thirty-one people interviewed by the NGO, John Kaheero Mugisa, former president of an association campaigning for fair compensation for displaced people, claims to have been arrested several times and to have seen his health deteriorate after seven months in detention. .

“Human rights violations”

Jealousy Mugisha, one of the people displaced for the project, traveled to France, where twenty-six Ugandans and five French and Ugandan associations launched a civil action to demand "reparation" for the "damage" caused by the project. they say they suffered. He claims that upon his return, he was detained and questioned for hours at the airport by government agents, who told him: “You are no longer supposed to testify in France. If you go back there, you will lose your life. »

The NGO also spoke with students arrested during protests against the project in the capital Kampala. A participant in one of these gatherings said he was beaten by uniformed security officers, some using “batons, rifle butts and (…) their boots to step on our heads.”

“This repression has created a frightening environment that stifles freedom of expression on one of the most controversial fossil fuel projects in the world,” laments Felix Horne, researcher at HRW, calling for “an end to arbitrary arrests.” Ugandan authorities did not respond to requests from HRW.

Questioned by the NGO and cited in the report, the company TotalEnergies declared that it recognized “the importance of protecting human rights defenders and that it did not tolerate any attacks or threats against those who peacefully and legally promote human rights”.

In September 2022, the European Parliament expressed concern in a resolution about “human rights violations” against opponents of the project in Uganda and Tanzania and asked the French group to study “the feasibility of another route allowing us to better preserve protected and sensitive ecosystems and water resources.” TotalEnergies ensures that people displaced by the project have been fairly compensated and that environmental protection measures have been taken.