DEI – A French civil court has dismissed a lawsuit brought against TotalEnergies over its oil projects in Uganda and Tanzania on a technicality.
Under the suit filed in 2019, six Ugandan and French activist groups accused the company of failing to protect the project affected persons (PAPs) and the environment from the activities related to the development of the Tilenga oilfield and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP); and therefore wanted court to halt the projects.
The case was based on a 2017 “duty of vigilance” French law that requires companies to identify human rights and environmental risks in their global operations and supply chains, and take measures to prevent them.
The court, however, found that the activists’ claims during the December 2022 court hearing were substantially different from those they made when filing their lawsuit in 2019.
The court further noted that only a judge examining the case more in depth could assess whether the accusations against TotalEnergies were founded, and then proceed to an audit of operations on the ground, according to a Reuters report.
While TotalEnergies has always stated that it has put in place a “vigilance plan” comprising the five items required by France’s duty of vigilance law – something that the court acknowledged – there is every reason to assume that the activists will be back.
Calling the court ruling an “unfortunate decision”, Dickens Kamugisha, the head of the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), felt that it was regrettable that in reaching its conclusion it based on procedural grounds and not on the merits of the case.
Pauline Tétillon, co-president of the French-based Survie group, said the ruling sidesteps the substance of the case, which is the projects’ consequences on people, the environment, and the climate.
These sentiments could form the basis of an appeal.
And with the court noting that nothing prevents France from enacting laws that govern the overseas activities of companies present in France, there are chances that TotalEnergies has not heard the last of the “duty of vigilance” law.
Uganda’s nascent oil industry has severally faced opposition from environmental and human rights activists over the years.
In September last year the European Union parliament passed a motion that called for an end to all oil exploration and extraction activities in the country.
Nonetheless, oil drilling kicked off recently at the Kingfisher project that is operated by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) with production expected to start in 2025.
The EACOP construction license has also since been awarded, with construction expected to start this year.