EACOP and Tilenga Oil Project: Economic Promises Masking Environmental Devastation and Human Rights Violations

Héloïse Carel / GICJ

What is the EACOP Pipeline/Tilenga Oil Project?

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is a contentious project aimed at transporting crude oil from Uganda to international markets. Spanning 1,443 kilometres, the pipeline will run from Uganda’s Kabaale-Hoima region to the port of Tanga in Tanzania. This initiative, part of a broader effort to exploit Uganda's oil reserves, includes the Tilenga development project led by TotalEnergies, which involves developing six oil fields and drilling around 400 wells in Uganda’s Lake Albert region. The extracted oil will be processed in Uganda before being transported through the pipeline to the Tanzanian coast for export. Major stakeholders in the project include TotalEnergies, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, the Uganda National Oil Company, and the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation. Despite promises of economic benefits such as job creation, increased tax revenues, and infrastructure development, the project has faced significant criticism. Environmentalists and community activists have raised concerns about potential ecological damage, risks to water sources and wildlife habitats, and the displacement of local communities. Furthermore, critics argue that the project's economic benefits may primarily serve large corporations and political elites rather than local populations. As EACOP progresses, addressing these environmental and social issues will be crucial in ensuring the project does not cause more harm than good.

EACOP’s Claims on Human Rights and Environmental Engagement

EACOP promises a strong commitment to human rights and environmental engagement, overseen by a dedicated human rights manager and involving consultations with vulnerable communities like the Maasai, Akie, Barbaig, and Taturu. However, critics argue these consultations lack transparency and fail to address community concerns adequately, with reports of intimidation against activists. EACOP asserts adherence to fair land acquisition practices, compensating Project Affected Persons (PAPs) at full replacement value and providing transitional support, yet concerns remain about the adequacy and fairness of compensation and the effectiveness of support for displaced communities. Environmentally, EACOP claims compliance with regulations and has conducted Environmental and Social Impact Assessments in Tanzania and Uganda. Nevertheless, environmentalists argue these assessments underestimate ecological impacts, and initiatives are deemed insufficient to mitigate significant risks to habitats and wildlife corridors.

The human impact of the project

The EACOP poses significant environmental and social challenges. The pipeline threatens to displace thousands of families and farmers, degrade critical water resources and wetlands, and cut through sensitive biodiversity hotspots. Additionally, the transported oil would generate 34 million tons of carbon emissions annually. EACOP has faced condemnation for associated human rights abuses, with nearly 118,000 people expected to be displaced in Uganda and Tanzania. The recent arrest of nine peaceful protestors in Kampala, Uganda, highlight the growing opposition and human rights concerns surrounding the project.

Devastating impact of the project on local population

Human Rights Violations

EACOP has been linked to numerous egregious human rights violations, particularly in its land acquisition process. Despite promises of fair compensation, affected communities have faced inadequate offers and constant pressure from officials. Threats of court action and forced displacement have become commonplace, leaving families in a state of uncertainty and vulnerability. The lack of consultation and transparency in these processes has further exacerbated tensions and eroded trust between communities and project developers.

To put things in perspective, with 5,300 hectares needed for construction and operation, approximately 13,000 households face displacement, with over 86,000 individuals in Uganda and Tanzania directly affected. Additionally, the associated Tilenga oil project compounds the issue, impacting an additional 32,000 individuals. 

Social and Economic Rights Under Attack

Land Grabbing 

Land grabbing lies at the heart of many human rights violations associated with the EACOP project. Affected communities have repeatedly reported that they were not provided with free, prior, and informed consent, and that they faced coercion and intimidation during the land acquisition process. Delays and irregularities in compensation procedures have only served to deepen the sense of injustice and disenfranchisement among displaced populations. The absence of meaningful consultation and dialogue exacerbates these issues, leaving the local population powerless to the actions of these giants of the industry.

The land acquisition process for the EACOP project has been marred by numerous issues, including delays, insufficient provision of information, and lack of free, prior, and informed consent from affected communities. The PAPs reported feeling pressured by project subcontractors into signing valuation forms without fully understanding the implications. Instances of harassment and coercion were prevalent, with local community representatives reporting being forced to sign documents without clear explanations. Moreover, they faced inadequate compensation offers, with many coerced into giving up their land without any choice in the matter. In Tanzania, the problem lies in the nature of Tanzanian land law. According to the Land and Resource Governance Division of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), "All land in Tanzania is considered public land, which is held by the President of Tanzania, in trust for the people." This framework allows the president to expropriate land from anyone, a reality well known to those who have been displaced.

Furthermore, there has been a clear lack of respect for international standards on displacement, with the vast majority of affected persons offered only monetary compensation instead of land and houses. This lack of choice and transparency in the compensation process underscores the total lack of concern given to the wellbeing of the local population.

Economic impact of the project

The EACOP project's impact extends beyond mere land acquisition, posing a direct threat to the social and economic rights of affected populations. Restrictions on land use and delays in compensation have decimated local livelihoods, particularly in agriculture. This has led to widespread food shortages, increased poverty, and exacerbated existing inequalities. The promised employment benefits pale in comparison to the loss of jobs in the tourism sector and the broader social and environmental costs associated with the project.

Compensation delays and inadequacies have had a major impact on communities affected by the EACOP project in Tanzania and Uganda. Despite promises of timely and fair recompense, many individuals have waited for years for payments, some since 2018. The compensation process has been widely criticised for providing insufficient payments that do not reflect the true value of the acquired land, with discrepancies in soil quality and fertility, and some families receiving infertile land as compensation.  

Additionally households grapple with the loss of agricultural practices that have sustained them for generations. While the project permits the cultivation of seasonal crops, the prohibition on long-term crops undermines food security. Some families report having been banned from using long term crops since 2018, and yet not compensated. They are left grappling with severe food shortages, forcing them to navigate the painful dilemma of sacrificing traditional crops for immediate sustenance. Moreover, the protracted delays in compensation payments compound these challenges, plunging families deeper into economic insecurity and debt.

The thriving tourism sector in regions like Murchison Falls National Park furthermore faces an existential threat from the EACOP project. While proponents tout job creation as a boon for local economies, the potential loss of employment in tourism and the social, environmental, and socio-economic costs far outweigh any perceived benefits. The displacement of local populations and degradation of natural habitats undermine the very foundations of sustainable tourism, posing a long-term threat to the region's economic viability.

The cultural impact of the project, further affecting indigenous communities across the two countries

Amidst the economic turmoil, the displacement of communities from their ancestral lands inflicts profound cultural wounds. The forced resettlement disrupts age-old traditions and severs the ties that bind communities to their heritage. Resettled villages, akin to military barracks, starkly contrast the vibrant tapestry of cultural life that once thrived. Women, marginalised and displaced, bear a disproportionate burden, grappling with the dual challenges of physical displacement and increased vulnerability to exploitation and violence. The erosion of cultural identity and the loss of traditional practices cast a long shadow over the affected communities, perpetuating cycles of trauma and dislocation.

More specifically, indigenous communities, such as the Maasai, Barbaig, and Akie, face a particularly dire situation as their ancestral lands come under threat from the EACOP project. Despite legal protections and international standards, these communities find themselves marginalised and disenfranchised, with little recourse for justice or meaningful engagement. The absence of genuine consultation not only violates international standards but also perpetuates patterns of marginalisation and dispossession that have long characterised the treatment of Indigenous Peoples.

For communities like the Barbaig, Sandawe, Ndorobo, Maasai, Akie, Taturu, and Bagungu, whose identities and ways of life are deeply intertwined with the land, the pipeline represents a direct threat to their ancestral heritage. Sacred sites, graves, and cultural practices linked to agriculture, fishing, and hunting face the spectre of destruction, undermining the spiritual and cultural foundations of these communities.

In Tanzania, the Maasai of Kiteto district find themselves confronting the encroachment of the EACOP onto their lands, exacerbating existing threats to their traditional way of life. The sprawling infrastructure of the pipeline encroaches upon vital grazing areas, medicinal plant resources, and temporary Maasai settlements, disrupting age-old patterns of existence and resource utilisation. Moreover, the influx of construction workers brings with it a host of social and health concerns, including the risk of disease transmission, violence against women, and environmental degradation through improper waste management practices.

Compounding these socio-economic and cultural upheavals are discrepancies and ambiguities surrounding the project's implementation and accountability. Discrepancies in reported numbers of affected individuals underscore the opacity shrouding the project's execution, raising fundamental questions about transparency and fairness. The divergent narratives surrounding compensation and land valuation further underscore the need for robust accountability mechanisms to address grievances and ensure equitable treatment of affected populations. As communities navigate these challenges, the spectre of environmental degradation looms large, threatening to exacerbate socio-economic disparities and undermine the very foundations of livelihoods and well-being.

The toll on environment and violation of sacred natural reserves

Impact on biodiversity

The EACOP project also poses grave environmental risks, particularly concerning biodiversity and water resources. The construction of oil wells within Murchison Falls National Park and the passage of the pipeline through forest reserves and game parks threaten the habitats of iconic animals such as lions, elephants, giraffes, and chimpanzees. The disruption caused by drilling activities and the transportation of drilling waste can displace wildlife and lead to irreparable damage to critical ecosystems.

Water resources, including Lake Victoria and numerous rivers and wetlands along the pipeline route, face significant risks from oil extraction activities and the potential for leaks or spills. The use of open-cut trenching for water crossings instead of more environmentally sound methods further compounds these risks, raising concerns about the integrity of freshwater sources and the livelihoods of communities dependent on them.

The cumulative impact of the EACOP project on biodiversity and water resources underscores the urgent need for greater environmental safeguards and responsible resource management practices. As Indigenous communities, environmental activists, and concerned citizens raise alarm bells about the potential consequences of the pipeline, it is imperative that decision-makers prioritise the protection of natural ecosystems and the rights of affected communities. Only through concerted efforts to mitigate environmental risks and uphold biodiversity conservation can we hope to safeguard the delicate balance of ecosystems and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.

A climate bomb

The EACOP represents a climate bomb waiting to detonate, with grave implications for global warming and climate change. The staggering scale of carbon emissions associated with the project is alarming, estimated to reach at least 34.3 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent per year at peak production. This amount surpasses the combined annual emissions of Uganda and Tanzania. Such emissions intensify the existential threat posed by climate change, exacerbating extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and disruptions to ecosystems and livelihoods.

The urgency of addressing climate change cannot be overstated, with scientists warning that we have a mere decade to significantly curb carbon pollution to avert catastrophic consequences. Yet, the EACOP project stands in stark defiance of this imperative, committing to extract and sell vast quantities of oil well beyond 2030. This not only perpetuates reliance on fossil fuels but also sets a dangerous precedent for future emissions. Furthermore, the project's environmental and social impact assessments have been criticised for underestimating risks, with experts cautioning that oil spills are inevitable over the project's lifespan.

The decision to proceed with the EACOP project flies in the face of scientific consensus and international commitments to combat climate change. IPCC scientists have emphasised the urgent need to keep fossil fuels in the ground to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2050. Yet, the EACOP project would unleash a torrent of CO2 emissions, fundamentally undermining efforts to achieve this critical goal. With the climate crisis escalating, there has never been a more ill-advised time to embark on such a colossal endeavour.

In light of the existential threat posed by climate change, the EACOP project represents a reckless gamble with the planet's future. Urgent action is needed to halt this climate bomb , an aberration for the future of our planet. 

Given the severe attacks on human and environmental rights encroached by EACOP, many citizens voiced their concerns, facing severe repression from the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments.

Crackdown on human rights defenders and opponents to the project

The project has not only sparked environmental and social concerns but has also triggered a disturbing crackdown on human rights defenders (HRDs) who have dared to raise their voices against the violations associated with the project. 

Numerous reports have shed light on the systematic targeting of environmental and human rights defenders by government authorities. Arbitrary arrests, rights infringements, and harassment have become commonplace, with individuals facing dire consequences for speaking out against the EACOP project. 

In Uganda, students and activists have borne the brunt of the authorities' heavy-handed tactics. Peaceful protests and petitions have been met with violent repression, with students imprisoned for daring to challenge the government's support for the EACOP project. Human rights defenders and journalists who have exposed the social and environmental consequences of the project have faced intimidation and arrest, signalling a worrying trend of shrinking space for dissent in the country.

The Ugandan government's systematic targeting of HRDs and activists has drawn condemnation from the international community, including the United Nations and the European Parliament. UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Mary Lawlor has expressed grave concerns over the violent arrests and arbitrary detention of those advocating for a just transition away from fossil fuels. 

In response to these alarming developments, Total Energies, the company overseeing the EACOP project, has stated its commitment to respecting human rights and condemned any threats or attacks against HRDs. The Ugandan government representatives have also been relentlessly refuting those accusations, claiming their commitment to human rights. However, the reality on the ground tells a different story, with HRDs continuing to face intimidation and harassment as they strive to protect the rights of affected communities and hold accountable those responsible for environmental and social injustices.

While their governments and EACOp show little respect to the demands of the citizens, their voice was heard by activists across the globe. A formidable campaign was launched thanks to the relentless efforts of HRDs in Uganda and Tanzania, the aim being to deter insurance companies to back up EACOP and banks to fund it.

How civil society has struck back through worldwide boycott campaigns

This campaign has targeted financial and insurance sectors to cut off support for the endeavour. Recognising the significant risks associated with the construction of the longest heated oil pipeline in the world, environmental organisations and activists have pressured multinational commercial insurance companies and banks to distance themselves from the project.

Their efforts have yielded notable successes, with a growing number of insurers and banks refusing to provide support for the EACOP project due to its significant pollution and human rights risks. Insurance giants like QBE, Suncorp, Generali, Aspen, and Helvetia have firmly ruled out involvement, joining a list of other firms that have taken a stance against the project. Similarly, banks such as Intesa Sanpaolo, DZ Bank, Natixis, and Santander have opted against direct finance for the project, citing environmental and social concerns.

The campaign's achievements underscore the power of collective action in holding financial institutions accountable for their role in funding projects that endanger local communities and ecosystems. Environmental organisations like Coal Action Network, Insure Our Future, and StopEACOP have played a pivotal role in mobilising public pressure and urging insurers and banks to prioritise human rights and environmental protection over profit.

Despite these victories, challenges remain, with some insurers and banks still considering involvement in the project. Efforts to persuade remaining financial institutions to withdraw support continue, with civil society groups calling on companies to uphold their responsibilities to respect human rights and mitigate environmental harm. Legal actions are also being pursued, with environmental groups taking TotalEnergies to French courts for misleading consumers and shareholders about its climate commitments.

As the campaign against the EACOP project gains momentum, it highlights the importance of corporate accountability and the need for stronger regulations to ensure that business enterprises adhere to human rights and environmental standards. With initiatives for binding instruments for human rights due diligence underway at the European Union and United Nations levels, there is growing momentum for greater transparency and accountability in the corporate sector, particularly in industries with significant environmental and social impacts like fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure projects.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) expresses grave concern over the human rights violations linked to the EACOP project in Uganda and Tanzania. We condemn the wrongful imprisonment of human rights defenders, arbitrary suspension of NGOs, and the eviction of people from their land without adequate compensation. GICJ calls on both governments to respect human rights standards, ensure fair compensation for affected communities, and uphold transparency in the oil zone. Furthermore, we urge the EU and the international community to exert maximum pressure on Ugandan and Tanzanian authorities to uphold human rights and environmental standards while ensuring free access for civil society organisations and journalists to the affected areas.

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