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Oil project thrusts aside human rights, Amnesty says

[Chad] A maze of pipes moves crude oil around at Kome oilfield, southern Chad. The project is being touted as a test case to prove that petro-dollars can benefit the poor.
Un labyrinthe de tuyaux sert à acheminer le pétrole depuis le sud du Tchad vers le site d'exportation au Cameroun (Esso Photo)

The Chad-Cameroon oil project flouts international human rights guarantees, placing financial interests above the concerns of local populations along the 650-kilometre pipeline, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

The governments of Chad and Cameroon have signed agreements with oil companies that could force them to pay cash penalties for disrupting operation of the 650-kilometre pipeline, even if they are intervening to protect human rights, Amnesty says.

“You can’t have the protection of people’s rights and needs be left to the good will of companies,” Sarah Green, spokesperson for Amnesty International UK, said by phone from the group’s headquarters in London.

The paper “Contracting out of human rights: The Chad-Cameroon pipeline project,” also pointed out that Chad and Cameroon have been violating human rights for decades.

Amnesty highlighted the case of Cameroonian fishermen whose livelihoods were damaged during the construction of the pipeline. In such cases citizens should be able to find recourse through their government; instead Cameroon baulked, Green said.

One major concern, Green added, is that since the contracts are good through the 70-year life of the project, any human rights treaties the governments sign in the coming years may not be enforced.

Amnesty is calling on investors to amend agreements to include explicit guarantees that human rights cannot be sidelined.

According to Amnesty, similarly damaging ‘state-investor agreements’ are the basis of hundreds of projects worldwide. Amnesty is urging the World Bank, which has given crucial backing to the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project, to reject projects with this type of contract in future.

The pipeline, which runs from Doba in southern Chad to the port city of Kribi in south west Cameroon, is run by a consortium led by the US company ExxonMobil with Petronas, a Malaysian state oil company, and another US firm, Chevron.

None of the oil companies were available for comment on Wednesday.

Amnesty International’s report comes on the heels of labour union strikes and protest marches throughout Chad.

On 5 September the Syndicates’ Union of Chad (UST) stopped work and presented a list of 28 grievances to the prime minister, several of which refer to alleged injustices linked to the oil pipeline project.

Haroun Kahagair, a member of UST, said it is as if the oil industry runs the country.

“The government must assume its responsibilities [to the people],” Kahagair said by phone from the capital, N’djamena. “This is still a republic, after all; we are not living in an occupied territory.”

The UST will bring up their grievances about the oil companies when they meet with government officials on 8 September.

“If things don’t change, we’ll have to call for longer and longer strikes,” he said. “We want peace, but you can’t have peace if you don’t have justice.”

The US $3.7-billion Chad-Cameroon project was formally launched in 2003 as a novel enterprise that would break the pattern of oil-producing countries enriching elites while leaving the poor behind.

Strict anti-corruption and poverty-reduction measures were to guarantee that Chad’s oil wealth would be earmarked for health, education, and other vital public infrastructures.

Of 177 countries in the 2005 UN human development index, Chad ranks 173rd and Cameroon 148th.

Human rights groups in the two countries are voicing their own grievances about the pipeline project. A coalition of Chadian and Cameroonian NGOs plan to petition to the World Bank next month for changes in the project’s terms to ensure that petrodollars go toward improving the lives of citizens.

Urbain Moyombaye heads an association of citizens in southern Chad affected by the oil project.

“We expected the Chadian government to invest in more schools, build more roads, hospitals, provide energy, telecommunications, see to it that the agricultural sector is better developed, as it was agreed when the pipeline was being developed,” he said.

Not only is the country not seeing these benefits, he said, but people’s freedoms are being squeezed. “There is insecurity, and democracy continues to regress. We can’t circulate from 6:00 p.m. because we’re accused of sabotage on the pipeline.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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