Environmental defenders and activists in Uganda who oppose the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) are reportedly facing arrests, harassment, and threats, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report titled, “‘Working On Oil is Forbidden’: Crackdown Against Environmental Defenders in Uganda.” The 22-page document outlines the Ugandan government’s restrictions on freedom of expression related to oil development, raising concerns about human rights violations.
The EACOP, a major global fossil fuel infrastructure project, has been a focal point for environmental and human rights activists. The pipeline, led by TotalEnergies and other partners, connects oilfields in western Uganda to the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in eastern Tanzania. Despite opposition from civil society organizations and climate activists globally, the Ugandan government and its international partners seem determined to proceed with the project.
The report indicates that the crackdown on environmental defenders has created a chilling effect, hindering free expression about the controversial fossil fuel project. Human Rights Watch calls for an end to arbitrary arrests and protection of the right to freedom of expression for activists.
The EACOP project, with its extensive environmental footprint, faces criticism for its potential environmental risks, human rights implications, and contribution to the global climate crisis. Financial institutions and insurance companies have pledged not to support the pipeline due to concerns about the impacts of fossil fuels on climate change and human rights.
The report documents cases of protesters and human rights defenders being arrested, with many facing charges of “common nuisance” under the Penal Code. The government’s actions include raids on the offices of civil society organizations working on EACOP, affecting their ability to monitor and document the project’s impact.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Ugandan government drop all criminal charges against activists and human rights defenders, cease arbitrary arrests, and allow the exercise of freedoms of association, assembly, and expression. The report also urges TotalEnergies and other stakeholders to publicly commit to not supporting the development of EACOP or associated projects.
In response, TotalEnergies has acknowledged the importance of protecting human rights defenders but has been called upon to communicate to the Ugandan government against threats to activists. The international community is urged not only to withdraw support for fossil fuel projects but also to redirect funding toward renewable energy and green economic sectors.