Outrage Over Kidnapping of East African Pipeline Opponent

Stephen Kwikiriza.

Stephen Kwikiriza. Environmental Governance Institute

Campaigners are calling for an investigation into the kidnapping and beating of Stephen Kwikiriza, a vocal opponent of a controversial drilling and pipeline project in Uganda.

Kwikiriza was abducted on June 4 in the Ugandan capital of Kampala by what appeared to be plainclothes officers from the Ugandan military. Five days later, he was dumped by the side of the road, 150 miles away in the town of Kyenyoyo. Kwikiriza said that, during his capture, he was stripped down to his underwear, given minimal food, and just a bucket for sanitation. He was severely beaten and knocked unconscious, enduring injuries that required hospital treatment.

“This was an enforced disappearance, a very serious crime under international law,” said Brad Adams, head of Climate Rights International. “Because of a long pattern of impunity in Uganda, a swift, independent, and transparent investigation must be conducted to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.”

Kwikiriza had previously faced threats for his work documenting the impact of drilling at the Kingfisher oil field in eastern Uganda. At the oil field, the Ugandan military provides security for drilling firm China National. Members of the military have allegedly attacked and sexually abused locals, and also seized and destroyed fishing boats.

Kingfisher is one of two oil fields linked to the planned East African Crude Oil Pipeline, a project spearheaded by French oil giant TotalEnergies, which would ferry oil 900 miles to the Tanzanian coast. A report last year implicated Total in the coercion and intimidation of families living in the path of the pipeline, which threatens to displace more than 100,000 people. The project has drawn condemnation from campaigners, businesses, and governments worldwide.

The planned East African Crude Oil Pipeline.

The planned East African Crude Oil Pipeline. Yale Environment / Source: Total

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said Kwikiriza’s kidnapping is part of an “alarming crackdown” on pipeline opponents. Other campaigners have criticized Total for not doing more to protect critics.

Juliette Renaud, of Friends of the Earth France, said the CEO of Total “repeatedly emphasizes that they are committed to respecting freedom of expression, yet they have been consistent in turning a blind eye on the increasing harassment, threats, and arrests suffered by environmental defenders.”

The Ugandan subsidiary of Total told The Guardian that it was relieved to hear Kwikiriza had been released and that it hoped for his full recovery. It said that it “does not tolerate any threats or violence against those who peacefully defend and promote human rights.”


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