By Foluso Ogunsan, in Lagos
“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 care”.
The Paris Civil Court has dismissed the case by a concert of environmentalist groups, seeking to halt cluster development of several oil fields in Uganda and truncate the proposed installation of a long-heated pipeline from Uganda to the Tanzanian coast
“The court issued a summary judgment (1) following a legal action brought by Friends of the Earth France, Survie and four Ugandan civil society organizations (AFIEGO, CRED, NAPE/Friends of the Earth Uganda and NAVODA) against French oil giant TOTALEnergies, regarding its oil mega-projects (Tilenga and EACOP) in Uganda and Tanzania”, a group known as 360.org disclosed in a statement.
“After more than three years and a lengthy procedural battle, the interim relief judges dismissed the case on controversial procedural grounds. The plaintiffs strongly deplore this decision and are consulting with affected communities to determine the appropriate next steps”, 360.org bitterly exclaimed.
The statement says that “the verdict 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”.
It contended, however that “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 could not be admitted 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.
“Given the social and environmental urgency in Uganda and Tanzania, the six CSOs had chosen to bring the case before the interim relief judge (“juge des référés”) in 2019 in the hopes of obtaining a swift decision.
“However, a lengthy procedural battle ensued, ultimately leading to the involvement of the French Supreme Court (i.e., France’s highest court for civil matters).
“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 care”.