Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised concerns about arbitrary arrests and the harassment of activists protesting an oil pipeline project in East Africa in a report released Thursday.
The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is an ongoing oil pipeline project in East Africa that aims to transport oil produced in Uganda to the Tanga port in Tanzania to be sold. Construction of this project requires land acquisition across East Africa, which has led to protests and backlash at the project’s continuance. In July 2023, HRW reported on the “inadequate compensation” given to farmers whose land was taken for the project.
Now, HRW is speaking out against the treatment of protestors, claiming that activists face “arbitrary arrests, harassment, and threats for raising concerns.” The protestors include human rights defenders and climate activists, who are protesting EACOP on the grounds of greenhouse gas production, harm to local communities and environmental sensitivity of the ecosystems the pipeline will disrupt.
In a detailed report, HRW described their findings based on interviews with 31 individuals, 21 of whom were protestors subject to this treatment. The report described the treatment of the protestors as follows:
Human rights defenders (HRDs) including civil society organizations raising concerns and providing support to affected communities about the oil projects describe being subjected to a steady barrage of harassment, arrests, and threats in Uganda. At least 30 protesters and HRDs, many of them students, have been arrested in Kampala and other parts of Uganda since 2021, when the government heightened a crackdown on environmental and human rights organizations, suspending 54 organizations on the basis of vague language in the 2016 NGO Law.
Many interviewees told Human Rights Watch that police detained them for several days in police stations or unknown places before releasing them without charge. At time of writing, there are several cases against protesters before the courts on the spurious charge of “common nuisance” under the Penal Code. Police in 2021 raided the offices of some civil society organizations who work on EACOP, in the capital, Kampala, and in the two towns closest to the oilfields, Hoima and Buliisa. Such raids often involve police confiscating computers, taking registration documents, closing offices, and threatening staff
The report also notes that environmental activists in Uganda are not alone. Anti-EACOP activism has begun to take place outside of Uganda, including France (where EACOP’s majority owner is headquartered), Germany and the UK. The increased activism and legal efforts have lead to uncertainty in the project’s continuance.