East African Court dismisses petition against construction of crude oil pipeline

Activists gather next to a fake EACOP pipeline structure in Paris, France on September 23, 2022. (Image: AFP)

The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) has dismissed costs a petition filed by four civil society actors seeking to challenge the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).

In November 2020, civil society players including the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) -Uganda, Natural Justice – Kenya, Centre for Strategic Litigation – Tanzania, the Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT) – Uganda filed a case at the EACJ against the government of Uganda and Tanzania and the Secretary General of the East African Community (EAC) challenging the construction of the EACOP.

The pipeline is part of a $10b-project led by French energy giant TotalEnergies to develop Uganda’s oilfields and ship the crude from Hoima district in Uganda to Tanzania for export.

The petition was brought by environmentalists who say the project will harm the ecosystems in areas rich in biodiversity as well as the livelihoods of local people.

The applicants wanted a temporary injunction to stop the construction of the EACOP until the questions of environmental, social and climate justice concerns raised in the case were heard and determined.

The court sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, last evening (Wednesday), November 29, 2023, ruled on and held the preliminary objections raised by Tanzania’s solicitor general, noting that the case was filed out of time.

The judges held that the applicants should have filed the case as early as 2017 rather than in 2020 and as a result, the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Justices Yohane B Masara, Dr Lawrence Gacuke, Dr Charles Nyawello, Richard Muhumuza and Richard Wabwire Wejuli delivered the ruling.

The governments of Uganda and Tanzania signed the Host Governments Agreements for the EACOP in 2017.

The Attorney General of Uganda represented by Mr Martin Mwambutsya, the Director of Civil Litigation, Mr George Kalemera, a Commissioner for Civil Litigation, Mr Richard Adrole, Ms Charity Nabaasa and Mr Mugisha Twinomugisha argued that the matter should have been filed at that time.

Mr Frank Tumusiime, a Senior Researcher at Advocates for Natural Resources Governance and Development (ANARDE), says that while the plaintiffs have a good case, they did not have enough time to prepare.

The ruling means that the applicants cannot proceed with the merits of the case.

AFIEGO issued a statement saying the ruling will negatively impact the environmental rights of Ugandans, Kenyans and Tanzanians.

It said the applicants will appeal the ruling adding that they believe that the judgement failed to take into consideration pertinent facts that would have allowed the applicants to have the merits heard before the court.

Mr Dickens Kamugisha, the Chief Executive Officer of AFIEGO said it is a somber day for the millions of East Africans who had anticipated that the court would allow the consideration of evidence concerning the environmental, social and economic risks of the EACOP project and make a determination on the case based on its merits.

“Despite the setback we have suffered, we remain determined and are prepared to appeal this unjust ruling, firmly believing that the dangers posed by EACOP can and will be stopped,” he said.

Mr Lucien Limacher, Head of Defending Rights and Litigation of Natural Justice, said the Court of First Instance for the East African Court of Justice failed to provide civil society with the chance to argue their case.

“This judgement marks a continuation of how the global north and various government institutions in Africa are blind to the destruction of the environment and the impact oil and gas has on the climate. Profit is valued above livelihoods and the environment. We will evaluate the judgement in detail and make the necessary actions to ensure we continue to protect the environment and the people who live in it.”

Mr Deus Valentine Rweyamanu, the Chief Executive Officer of CSL, said they respect the court’s decision but feel that an opportunity to hold the governments of Uganda and Tanzania accountable for non-compliance with the EAC treaty provisions on the environment and other environmental laws has been missed.

“We shall engage our legal team and proceed with an appeal,” he said.

Mr Dale Onyango of Natural Justice, said while they are disappointed by the court’s decision, they respect the legal process and will carefully review the ruling.

“Our commitment to environmental sustainability, social justice and climate resilience remains unwavering. We will explore all available avenues to continue advocating for the well-being of our communities and the protection of our environment,” he said.

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