Two defenders who testified in the trial against Total are at risk in Uganda

26/12/2019
Press release
en fr

Paris-Geneva, December 26, 2019 - The two Ugandan witnesses who testified in France on December 12 in the trial against Total for its activities in Uganda [1] now have clear reasons to fear for their lives, after further intimidation and threatening acts upon their return to Uganda and to their village. Friends of the Earth France, Survie and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a FIDH-OMCT partnership) express their deep concern for their physical and moral integrity and call for an immediate end to all forms of persecution.

Unknown men attempted to break into farmer Fred Mwesigwa’s house late on the night of December 23 and again the following night, forcing through the metal doors and wooden structures of his house, which fortunately held. After their second failure, these men locked Fred Mwesigwa into his house with padlocks. As a result of these attacks, he was able to take refuge yesterday in a secret location.

The pressure began as soon as the two witnesses arrived at the Kampala airport: community leader Jelousy Mugisha was arrested and questioned for nearly nine hours [2]. But it has reached another level since their return home to Buliisa, in the heart of the area where Total is working to develop a mega oil project.

At the same time, according to various local informants, Moses Ogamhogwa, a Total Uganda employee based in Buliisa, whom Total SA brought to France for the December 12 hearing at the Nanterre High Court, is allegedly spreading false information to the community about Jelousy Mugisha. Indeed, the head of relations with the affected communities allegedly reported that Jelousy Mugisha had lied during his testimony in France. In addition to threatening Jelousy Mugisha, this misinformation to the communities creates a deleterious climate of confusion and fear.

According to Thomas Bart, a Survie activist who coordinated the on-site investigation, "Although there is no evidence to incriminate Total and its subcontractors, if anything were to happen to our witnesses, it would be perceived on-site as retaliation and would reinforce the idea that it is not possible to oppose the oil giant when it threatens the rights of the populations".

For Juliette Renaud, campaign manager for Friends of the Earth France, "These new intimidations are likely to dissuade those affected from asserting their rights, which is unacceptable. We are genuinely concerned for the safety of these two witnesses, and potentially for the safety of other members of their communities."

For the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, "the safety of defenders must be guaranteed, otherwise Total should not agree to move forward on this project".

Survie, Friends of the Earth France and the Observatory remain attentive to the situation of the witnesses and call for their immediate securing.

Press contacts :
Thomas Bart, Survie, +33 6 52 21 15 61 - communication@survie.org
Juliette Renaud, Friends of the Eatrth France, +33 6 37 65 56 40 - juliette.renaud@amisdelaterre.org

Notes :

[1] Total Uganda : historic first earing on the duty of care, December 12, 2019 : https://www.amisdelaterre.org/Total-Ouganda-premiere-audience-historique-sur-le-devoir-de-vigilance.html

[2] Further intimidation of one of the Ugandan witnesses in the trial against Total in Paris : https://www.amisdelaterre.org/Nouvelle-intimidation-d-un-des-temoins-ougandais-venu-dans-le-cadre-du-proces.html and Arbitrary detention and release of Mr. Jelousy Mugisha following his testimony in France in a case against Total : https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/uganda-arbitrary-detention-and-release-of-mr-jelousy-mugisha

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