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28 Feb 2023

Friends of the Earth, France,
// Amis de la Terre, France

Total’s Tilenga and EACOP Projects: the Paris Civil Court dodges the issue

"Total’s Tilenga and EACOP Projects: the Paris Civil Court dodges the issue", 28 Feb 2023

The verdict [1] was long awaited by civil society, as it was the very first case based on the French law on the duty of vigilance of transnational corporations [2]. But once again, the judges did not rule on the core elements of the case, namely Total’s serious failures to meet its duty of vigilance obligations to identify and properly prevent the risks of human rights violations and environmental damage associated with its Tilenga and EACOP projects in Uganda and Tanzania.

The Paris Court – ruling in summary proceedings – considered that the CSOs’ legal action was inadmissible because their current claims were "substantially different from the claims” made in the initial formal notice sent to the defendant.

The CSOs contest the assertion that they have substantially modified their claims, stating that they have only clarified their requests and arguments while providing more than 200 documents. The CSOs explain that the amount of evidence provided is proportionate to the issues at stake and necessary to update their complaint due to the prolonged procedural battle initiated by Total in 2019...

The judgment also states that the CSOs’ claims exceed the interim relief judge’s competence and should be “be examined in depth" by a civil judge following a regular procedure on the merits.

However, this decision does not rule in favor of Total either, as the Court did not rule on the core issue, which is whether or not the company has fulfilled its duty of vigilance...

According to Dickens Kamugisha, Director of AFIEGO: "This decision is a huge disappointment for the civil society organizations and affected communities in Uganda who had placed their hopes in the French justice system. Human rights violations and environmental damage are continuing and worsening, and we will keep mobilizing harder than ever in and out of court to put an end to them and hold Total liable for the consequences of its activities”.

Juliette Renaud, senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth France, said: “We strongly deplore this decision. Once again, the French courts have missed an opportunity to put an end to the multiple violations taking place in Uganda and Tanzania. It is essential that this summary judgment procedure, which allows for faster judgments, be effective in order to achieve the central objective of this law: to prevent human rights violations and environmental damage before they occur. Judicial delays are piling up, and every passing month is wasted time in putting an end to the serious human rights violations caused by Total’s mega-oil project in Uganda and Tanzania, and preventing an environmental and climate disaster from occurring.”

Pauline Tétillon, co-chair of Survie continues “While Total’s devastating oil mega-project in Uganda and Tanzania is being criticized from all sides, from journalists to academics, from the European Parliament to UN rapporteurs, and while civil society mobilization has taken on an international dimension, the judges are still postponing a decision on the heart of the matter: the consequences of this project on the population, the environment and the climate. We have been denouncing them for more than three years; the disaster must stop as soon as possible, while we are only a few weeks away from the first drillings in the heart of the protected natural park of Murchison Falls..."

The plaintiffs are reserving the right on the follow-up to be given to this judgment, in consultation with affected communities.