Communiqué de presse23 mai 2024

Intimidation in Uganda and Tanzania: new investigative tool and hearing of human rights defender Maxwell Atuhura by the French Senate

56: that's the alarming number of intimidations related to Total's Tilenga and EACOP projects, over a period of almost 4 and a half years, i.e. an average of 1 per month. These facts are now displayed in the interactive investigative map developed by Mémoire Vive and Friends of the Earth France, that is published now in an updated version

This tool is made public while Ugandan human rights defender Maxwell Atuhura, himself a victim of this continuous harassment, will be heard at 11:45 am CEST today by the French Senate’s Inquiry Commission on TotalEnergies.

A hearing at the Senate

Since the start of the Tilenga and EACOP projects in Uganda and Tanzania, human rights and environmental defenders have been the target of repeated intimidation: threats, abusive arrests, physical and verbal assaults… This repressive environment clearly acts as a deterrent to those who wish to speak out against oil projects, or who just wish to exercise and defend their rights, as denounced on several occasions by several United Nations Special Rapporteurs.

But opponents resist with courage and determination. Such is the case of Maxwell Atuhura, human rights defender and director of the Ugandan civil society organization TASHA, who has himself suffered numerous threats and several arbitrary detentions. He will be heard this morning by the Senate Inquiry Commission concerning Total, where he will denounce the repeated intimidation and threats against affected persons and civil society organizations who dare to denounce the human rights violations and environmental damages caused by Total’s oil projects.

Just before him, the French ambassador to Uganda will be heard, but behind closed doors. He may have to answer questions about the Embassy’s diplomatic support for Total’s projects, despite their devastating impacts and the repression they foster.

Maxwell Atuhura

I’ve been supporting oil affected communities for several years already. I have witnessed a number of harassment and acts of intimidation to civil society, students, affected communities members denouncing human rights violations caused by Tilenga and EACOP. I myself suffer from repeated threats.

Maxwell Atuhura
Human rights and environmental defender, director of TASHA

Maxwell Atuhura added: « This is not stopping and is even increasing. Something must be done by the French government, which so far remained silent while it is their duty to regulate a French company like Total« .

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A new interactive tool to tracks intimidation

To better counter these threats, Friends of the Earth France, in partnership with Mémoire Vive, have added a new module to their interactive investigation map Since November 2023, this online map already showed the progress of the works, the eviction of communities in Uganda and Tanzania, the floods caused by the construction of the oil central processing facility, and the environmental impacts of the Tilenga and EACOP projects. It now includes a section on threats to human rights and environmental defenders.

The aim of this module, which will be updated over time, is to demonstrate the scale of such harassment and the need to put an end to it. Each of these acts of intimidation is detailed (date, person targeted, summary of facts, sources) and located on the map. However, as many threats go unnoticed by fear of reprisals, the number of cases recorded only partially reflects the seriousness of the situation.

Juliette Renaud

Total pretends to be committed to respect freedom of expression, but the facts are there: the further its Tilenga and EACOP projects progress, the greater the pressure, intimidation and arbitrary arrests in Uganda and Tanzania, sometimes directly involving employees of Total and its subcontractors.

Juliette Renaud
Coordinator of Friends of the Earth France

Juliette Renaud added: « The French state, supposedly a leader in the protection of human rights defenders, remains stubbornly silent when it comes to denouncing this harassment of opponents to these oil projects, while its embassy regularly praises Total at conferences and on social media ».

The mobilization against the Tilenga and EACOP projects also continues in court, despite judicial delays. Next June 28th, Total will respond for the first time to the summons it received a year ago. Maxwell Atuhura and several members of the affected communities are seeking compensation in particular for the violation of their right to freedom of expression. This will be just the beginning of a long legal battle, meanwhile human rights violations continue.

While waiting for the court ruling, Friends of the Earth France calls on the French authorities to take concrete action to help put an immediate end to all forms of intimidation and persecution, so that opponents to oil mega-projects can express themselves freely and assert their rights.

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