Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged on Thursday that demonstrators and activists opposing a significant East African oil project headed by the French conglomerate TotalEnergies were being harassed, detained, and physically assaulted by Ugandan authorities.
President Yoweri Museveni has praised the $10 billion project by TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation to develop oilfields in Uganda as an economic boost, but environmental organizations and human rights advocates have opposed it.
The European Parliament has expressed concerns about the wrongful imprisonment of environmental activists and the forced eviction of people from their land without sufficient compensation, and it is currently the subject of legal action in France.
The project entails drilling about 400 oil wells in Uganda’s largest protected area, Murchison Falls National Park, and transporting crude to the Tanzanian port of Tanga via a pipeline that spans 1,445 kilometers (900 miles).
According to TotalEnergies, the project’s displaced people have received just compensation, and environmental protection measures have been implemented.
Between March and September 2023, HRW conducted 31 interviews in Tanzania and Uganda, including 21 with activists. Several of the interviewees claimed to have experienced constant harassment, threats, and unjustified arrests.
Former head of the Oil and Gas Human Rights Defenders Association, which advocates for just compensation for displaced people, John Kaheero Mugisa, told HRW that he was jailed for seven months and that his health had declined.
The two towns nearest to the oilfields, Buliisa and Hoima, as well as Kampala, the capital of Uganda, are home to activists who claim that in 2021, raids occurred at their offices.
resentment One of the project’s displaced people, Mugisha, claimed that after returning to Uganda from a court appearance in France, he was held and questioned for several hours.
He told HRW that he was forewarned by government security personnel at the airport: “You are not expected to witness in France once more.” You will not survive if you return.”
Additionally, HRW spoke with students who had been detained during anti-project protests.
According to one of the people he spoke with, he was arrested in June during a protest at Uganda’s parliament and assaulted by parliamentary security officers in uniform as well as other people who used batons, gun butts, and boots on their heads.
TotalEnergies responded to the claims made in the report by HRW by saying that it understood the value of defending human rights advocates and that it “did not tolerate any attacks or threats against those who peacefully and legally promote human rights.”
According to HRW, Uganda’s government has not responded to the accusations outlined in the report.
In July, Human Rights Watch called for a halt to the project, citing serious environmental and community implications.
Museveni, though, has promised to carry out the project.