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EACJ Dismisses Petition by Activists Challenging EACOP’s Construction

A five-judge panel said the lawsuit could only be adjudicated for being filed within the prescribed period.

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Dar es Salaam. The East African Court of Justice on Wednesday dismissed a petition filed by activists in the region who oppose the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), a project that has continued to face criticisms from environmental advocates.

Filed on November 6, 2023, the case challenged the construction of the oil pipeline because the project proponents failed to conduct effective and meaningful public participation and consultation. 

Natural Justice (NJ), Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT), Centre for Strategic Litigation (CSL) and Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) filed the petition.

The organisations also asserted that neither human rights nor climate impact assessments were conducted before commencing the EACOP project. According to the organisations, this raises significant concerns regarding environmental sustainability, social justice, and climate justice.

But in its judgment on Wednesday, the EACJ upheld the preliminary objection the Tanzanian and Ugandan governments raised regarding the timeframe within which the case was filed at the EACJ.

READ MORE: Report Details Widespread Mistreatment of Tanzanian, Ugandan Graves by EACOP

The EACJ judged 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. The court ruled that the petitioners could not proceed with the case’s merits in the EACJ.

In a joint statement released immediately after the ruling, the organisations said they would appeal the verdict as they believe that the judgment failed to consider pertinent facts that would have allowed the applicants to have the merits heard before the EACJ.

Dickens Kamugisha, the Chief Executive Officer of AFIEGO, described Wednesday as a “sombre 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 decide on their case based on its merits. 

Lucien Limacher, Head of Defending Rights and Litigation of Natural Justice, said the court failed to give civil society a chance to argue their case, describing the judgment as 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,” he added. “We will evaluate the judgment in detail and make the necessary actions to ensure we continue to protect the environment and the people who live in it.”

READ MORE: EACOP Nears Investment Decision After Tanzania Settles Disagreements With Chinese Funders

On his part, Deus Valentine Rweyemamu, the Chief Executive Officer of CSL, said: “We respect the court’s decision but feel that an opportunity to hold the governments of Tanzania and Uganda 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.”

According to EACOP’s website, the 1,443-kilometer (897-mile) pipeline should start transporting oil in 2025 and ferry 246,000 barrels daily at peak. TotalEnergies has a 62 per cent stake in the planned conduit that, once complete, will be the world’s longest heated pipeline.

State-owned Tanzania Petroleum Development Corp. and Uganda National Oil Co. each have a 15 per cent interest, while CNOOC owns the rest. The project will be funded on a 40:60 equity-debt ratio.

In their joint statement Wednesday, the petitioners said that while they are disappointed by the court’s decision, they respect the legal process and will carefully review the ruling. 

READ MORE: Tanzania Reportedly Approves $3.5 Billion Oil Pipeline Project

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

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