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CSOs Seek Redress as French Court Dismisses Tilenga Case

The CSO’s with help from two French-based organizations including Friends of the Earth and Survie dragged Total to Nanterre High court claiming that through its subsidiary Total E&P Uganda had failed to come up with a vigilance plan to address the human and environmental impact of its operations at Tilenga site in the Albertine region as required by the 2017 French law on duty of vigilance.

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Four Civil Society Organizations which lost a case filed in French Court in relation to Total’s oil projects in Uganda are considering seeking redress in court.   

The CSOs are; Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED)National Association for Profession environmentalists (NAPE), and Navigators of Development Association (NAVODA).      

The CSO’s, with help from two French-based organizations, dragged Total to Nanterre High court claiming that through its subsidiary Total E&P Uganda had failed to come up with a vigilance plan to address the human and environmental impact of its operations at Tilenga site in the Albertine region as required by the 2017 French law on duty of vigilance.     

The case was heard and determined on January 30, 2020, by a panel of three Nanterre High Court Judges, in the first-ever court decision based on the law. The Judges dismissed the case on grounds that their court did not have the powers to hear a complaint against Total since the dispute is fit within the jurisdiction of the Commercial Court.   

Friends of the Earth, who have since issued a press release in regard to the matter, indicates that they were dissatisfied for having failed to obtain the decision-forcing Total to effectively prevent on-going human rights violations in Uganda.   

“This is not simply a question of corporate management as Total has argued; it is absurd to believe that corporate representatives elected by their peers are the best judge of a situation where lives and entire ecosystems are threatened,” says Juliette Renaud, Senior campaigner on Regulation of Transnational Corporations at Friends of the Earth France as quoted in the release.

Renaud further adds that every month that passes is time wasted in putting an end to serious human rights violations perpetrated by Total with its mega oil project in Uganda, and preventing new violations from occurring.   

Frank Muramuzi, the NAPE Executive Director, notes that they are contesting the court’s decision since their demands were not examined.  Mulamuzi says the Court decision might also have a negative impact on future cases and therefore they are considering appealing.         

“We are still consulting our lawyers but disappointingly as we seek redress, the entire process might take several months for us to obtain a decision. However, we will not tire until the truth is brought into the light,” Mulamuzi told Uganda Radio Network.   

Dickens Kamugisha, the Executive Director of Africa Institute for Energy Governance says they chose to file the lawsuit in France out of a conviction that French justice system where Total originates is stronger and independent as opposed to that of Uganda.   

He adds that the speed and urgency the matter has been handled is far better than what is happening in Uganda where they filed similar cases against the state but after years some of the said cases are yet to be heard.     

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In 2014 and 2019, the Ugandan organizations filed similar cases in local courts which are respectively pending hearing before the head of Civil Division Judge Dr Andrew Bashaija and Justice Michael Elubu.   

Total plans to drill over 419 wells near Lake Albert in western Uganda for the Tilenga project which could produce 200,000 barrels of crude a day. However, as many other oil projects, it is coming with a number of social and environmental risks which CSOs are saying that they need to be catered for.    

Kamugisha notes that the CSOs are not opposed to the extraction of oil from the Albertine region. He, however, observes that from the survey conducted by CSOs, in addition, Totals own environmental impact assessment report, points out the general nature of the danger associated with the implementation of Total’s project thus asking that mitigation plans should be laid before the project takes shape. 

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However, Total has over time denied the said wrongdoing arguing that their vigilance plan clearly identifies the risks to human rights, fundamental freedoms, human health and safety, and the environment give the fact that they conducted detailed environmental and social impact assessments.  

The multinational company observe that the assessments led to measures being devised to prevent or mitigate the risk.