• A new Global Witness investigation uncovers evidence that TotalEnergies has been party to bullying and intimidation of communities affected by the controversial EACOP project in Uganda and Tanzania, with community members reportedly feeling pressured into compensation deals for their land
  • In several cases, the investigation also found evidence that suggests TotalEnergies was in communication with Ugandan state authorities prior to threats and detentions of anti-oil campaigners.
  • TotalEnergies is also accused of downplaying abuses and ‘gaslighting’ defenders 
  • Global Witness is now calling for an independent investigation into TotalEnergies' role in this crackdown on land and environmental defenders

Monday 4th December 2023, London - The role of French oil giant TotalEnergies in intimidation of and reprisals against communities affected by a US$5billion fossil fuel project in Uganda and Tanzania has been brought into question in a new investigation by Global Witness.

Backed by TotalEnergies and state oil companies, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) has already caused huge disruption to those living along the proposed 1,440km pipeline route. The project is set to have devastating environmental consequences, with estimated emissions of almost 380 million tonnes CO2 over its 25-year life span – more than the UK’s national CO2 emissions in 2022.

Published today, the investigation found that TotalEnergies and its contractors have been party to bullying and intimidation of communities affected by EACOP - even where it was carried out by state authorities. It documents numerous allegations by community members who felt pressured into accepting compensation deals for their land well below its true value, with some community members reporting being forced to sign contracts on the spot. Others reported not being given enough time to understand the documents they were signing.

On top of these findings, the investigation uncovers evidence that threats against and detentions of several campaigners carried out by state authorities took place after they opposed the construction of the pipeline. In a handful of instances, the state authorities appeared to be in communications with TotalEnergies before reprisals took place.

Since September 2020, at least 47 campaigners in Uganda alone have been detained for speaking out against oil or the pipeline, with some alleging that they have been beaten while in custody. 

The report highlights that if TotalEnergies is found on further investigation to have shared information in the knowledge that reprisals against defenders could follow, this could open the company - which owns almost two thirds of EACOP - to potential liability.

Hanna Hindstrom, Land and Environmental Defenders Campaign Senior Investigator at Global Witness said: “Reprisals against activists in these authoritarian states have created a chilling effect on communities impacted by the pipeline and civil society in both Tanzania and Uganda, with many reportedly too scared to speak out. 

"As the major shareholder in EACOP, it is vital that any complicity on the part of TotalEnergies’ in the arrests, attacks and reprisals against those affected by the project is investigated further.”

The investigation also received reports that TotalEnergies’ contractors threatened defenders fighting for compensation. One outspoken defender, whose account is supported by a witness, says a contractor threatened him with arrest for “sabotaging government programmes” unless he accepted his compensation. In another case, a contractor appears to have intimidated a Ugandan farmer locked in a dispute with the company by building a fence around his house – although TotalEnergies deny this and insist the fence was erected with his consent and for his “safety”. Some involved in disputes say they have been forced into hiding.

The investigation highlights how little information is available on reprisals and arrests of activists in Tanzania due to a lack of civil space in the country, with the report noting there is currently an effective “ban” on any activism perceived as being ‘anti-government’, used to silence campaigners.

It notes that two Tanzanian activists were forced to flee the country earlier this year for organising a press conference raising concerns about EACOP, after which they received threats. Upon their return home, they were met by police, and had their homes searched and their phones and laptops taken away.

Another Tanzanian activist, Baraka Machumu, fled the country in 2022 fearing for his safety. He reported being followed and harassed at his home following a visit to TotalEnergies’ headquarters with two journalists, where he was interrogated by a TotalEnergies security officer. There is no direct evidence Machumu was intimidated by TotalEnergies employees or on their orders.

Baraka Machumu, Founder of Green Conservers in Tanzania, said: “If you challenge any aspect of the oil pipeline in Tanzania, you will have a target painted on your back. I’ve had to close my office and even flee the country to avoid reprisals for my work.

“We cannot support communities who will lose land and livelihoods to the pipeline without putting them and ourselves at risk of detention and arrest.  We need debate on the future of EACOP, not a silencing of those most affected by its construction.”

Global Witness was also informed of reprisals against defenders suspected of involvement in a legal complaint. After sending letters to EACOP and Total, community members reported receiving phone calls from local government officials asking them about their role in the legal action, and asking who they were working with.

The report alleges that TotalEnergies is profiting from the authoritarian political space in Tanzania, and a near total suppression of civil society mobilisation around the pipeline.

The investigation also brings into question the company’s reported push to ensure Tanzania was chosen as a route for the pipeline instead of neighbouring Kenya, where construction was originally planned. It notes that the land in the Tanzania is owned by the country’s president – making it easier for the EACOP Company to appropriate land.

These alleged actions involving TotalEnergies and its contractors documented in the investigation could constitute a breach of international land acquisition standards as well as UN Principles.

But in response to Global Witness’s request for comment, TotalEnergies “strenuously” denied that its subsidiary Total Energies EP Uganda (TEPU) and EACOP Ltd intimidated community members into signing any compensation agreements. It insisted they adhered to international compensation standards and awarded compensation at “full replacement cost”, in addition to an “uplift payment” and offered other supports to those who relocated. It also added that community members were provided with “third-party” lawyers and translation services in accordance with the law, and that around 95% of those affected accepted the compensation.

TotalEnergies also strenuously denied that they skirted their responsibilities on business and human rights or had done anything to create a climate of fear. They state that EACOP Ltd and TEPU do not tolerate any threats or intimidation of those affected by the pipeline, and investigate such allegations.

In response to allegations that it has facilitated state abuses, TotalEnergies said it “cannot be held responsible” for the actions of third parties and denied any association with “unlawful behaviour”.

TotalEnergies’ representatives and the EACOP team also downplayed claims of reprisals against civil society working on oil in Uganda in a meeting with Global Witness earlier this year, claiming that: “Every single time we hear allegations of human rights violations, we investigate… But there is no evidence the allegations are correct.”

Maxwell Atuhura, Executive Director at Tasha Research Institute in Uganda, said: “As an environmental defender against oil development in Uganda, I have been criminalised, harassed and arrested.

“By downplaying assaults on free speech in Uganda, TotalEnergies is undermining and gaslighting defenders living in fear. This is a disgrace. Both the oil company and the Ugandan government need to be held to account.”

*This press release was updated on 6 December 2023 to reflect changes in the number of people arrested in Uganda between September 2020 and the date of publication from 40 to 47."