Lawsuit Filed Against TotalEnergies Alleging Negligence in Mozambique

Lawsuit Filed Against TotalEnergies Alleging Negligence in Mozambique

Civil society groups cite Palma terrorist attack, oppose restarting project

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | French and Mozambican civil society groups have filed a criminal suit against French energy giant, TotalEnergies, in Paris, accusing it of “manslaughter and negligence” during the terrorist attack on Palma, in northern Mozambique about 30 months ago.

Mozambican civil society group Justiça Ambiental together with Friends of the Earth Mozambique and Les Amis de la Terre France (Friends of the Earth France) said in an Oct.10 statement that TotalEnergies had failed to assist persons in danger during the devastating attack that took place on 24 March, 2021, in Palma, Mozambique.

On that day, there was a terrorist attack in the Cabo Delgado province against the town of Palma, close to Total Energies’ Mozambique LNG project at the Afungi site. The Islamic terrorist group known as Al-Shabaab subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack.

The terrorist attack against the civilian population lasted for several days and is estimated to have caused 1,200 civilian deaths although there exists no official count of the number of dead and missing civilians. Many civilians fled the area.

Following the attack, TotalEnergies declared force majeure (unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract) and suspended operations in April 2021.

Based on that, civil society groups accuse TotalEnergies of seeking to free itself from its contractual obligations with its subcontractors, many of whom are local.

They say TotalEnergies’ suspension of activity aggravated the situation of the local populations displaced by the gas project, who were abandoned without land or livelihoods. They say with the compensation process halted, it is uncertain when or if it would resume.

The criminal complaint filed against TotalEnergies says the transnational corporation has scant regard for the local population and its subcontractors: despite being aware of the deteriorating security situation in Cabo Delgado and the likelihood of an imminent terrorist attack. The company, allegedly, did not have an evacuation plan.

“Total’s negligence towards its subcontractors is another expression of the company’s criminal disregard for the people affected by its activities. We shall not forget that the majority of the victims of the Palma attack were the local people,” said Anabela Lemos, Justiça Ambiental’s Director.

“We believe this legal action is important to challenge the impunity of these companies and we hope it expands the possibilities for Mozambican communities to pursue justice as well.”

The NGOs said in a statement seen by The Independent they had been warning since 2019 about TotalEnergies’ responsibilities in developing its mega-gas project; Mozambique LNG. Despite the pre-existing and ongoing security and humanitarian situation, and the numerous human rights violations, the French multinational failed to take the necessary measures in view of the serious existing risks, the civil society groups noted.

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Project restart opposed

The NGOs also appear not to have taken kindly to TotalEnergies’ recent announcement that the energy giants are planning to resume operations in Cabo Delgado later this year. The NGOs say the situation remains “dramatic.”

On Sept. 27, TotalEnergies CEO, Patrick Pouyanné, announced to investors his goal of restarting the Mozambique LNG project by the end of 2023. TotalEnergies says the government of Mozambique is responsible for restoring security: that is the prerogative of a sovereign state.

“Thanks to the efforts of the Mozambican government, with the support of the South African Development Community and Rwanda, the security situation has improved significantly in Cabo Delgado since 2021, and terrorist activities have decreased substantially,” it says.

It says Mozambique LNG monitors the security situation on an ongoing basis with the assistance of internal and external experts. It adds that several audits have been conducted and have confirmed the significant improvement in the security situation in the Cabo Delgado region.

“The decision to restart the project depends on the ability to complete the project under good security conditions. This position is shared by all of Mozambique LNG’s partners,” it says, “Current activities on site are limited to strengthening security infrastructure and improving access roads.”

TotalEnergies says, in addition, Mozambique LNG is implementing a major programme of socio-economic initiatives for the local community to promote local economic development, contribute to the stabilization of the area, and support local communities.

This socio-economic programme for Cabo Delgado is part of the Pamoja Tunaweza initiative,TotalEnergies said in an Oct.11 response to the NGOs’ notice to sue. This programme followed on from the emergency humanitarian aid that was quickly deployed by Mozambique LNG after the attacks on Palma, particularly the supply of food.

However, on the ground, the NGOs say “fundamental issues remain unresolved and most of the shortcomings have still not been addressed by TotalEnergies.

“Even though there are improvements in the security situation in Palma and around the project site, communities still don’t feel safe, civil society organisations and journalists are not operating freely, and the insurgency remains active in other areas of the province,” the statement from the NGOs reads in part.

“This project should not be resumed: the ground reality remains problematic, the gas contracts are unjust, and the risks to Mozambique’s people, climate and economy are extremely high.”

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In June 2020, Friends of the Earth France, Mozambique and International, published an investigative report entitled “Gas in Mozambique: a windfall for the industry, a curse for the country.” It detailed the risks and impacts of the project on human rights, the environment and the climate, and the complicity of the French State.

At the time, the NGOs warned: “In a region plagued by escalating conflict, gas development is already turning into a nightmare for the people of Cabo Delgado.”

According to the complaint, which is based in particular on the investigation by journalist Alex Perry, Total refused to provide assistance to the security company DAG, which had requested fuel for its rescue missions during the Palma attack.

Prior to the attack, TotalEnergies had pressured the Mozambican government to guarantee security to the gas area, which was reflected by the fact that, on the day of the attack, over 800 soldiers were protecting TotalEnergies’ Afungi site whereas there was no security protecting the town nor the civilians.

The complaint also refers to the Uprights study, commissioned by Friends of the Earth Mozambique, France and Europe, which identified serious shortcomings in TotalEnergies’ human rights impact assessments. In particular, the report highlights the company’s failure to account for the armed conflict and to address the human rights impact of its operations. As a result, the rights of local communities were violated.

“Since entering the gas business in Mozambique in 2019, Total has consistently underestimated the seriousness of the security and humanitarian situation, even failing in its duty to come to the aid of local communities and workers in mortal danger. Impunity must end and Total must be held accountable in court,” said Juliette Renaud, Corporate Regulation Senior Campaigner with Friends of the Earth France.

“Today, Total is still trying to make its financiers and investors believe that the situation is under control and that the actions carried out by Mozambique LNG are having a positive impact on the living conditions of the population. Crédit Agricole and Société Générale need to urgently abandon this myth and stop supporting the oil and gas majors’ projects in Mozambique,” said Lorette Philippot, the Private Finance Campaigner with Friends of the Earth France.

TotalEnergies’ response

However, in an Oct.11 statement seen by The Independent, TotalEnergies categorically rejects the accusations of “manslaughter and a failure to assist people in danger.”

It details its emergency assistance including how its subsidiary, Mozambique LNG, mobilized resources following the attack. TotalEnergies said in its reply that it had evacuated more than 2,500 people; including civilians, personnel, contractors and subcontractors from the Afungi site where the Mozambique project is located. It chartered a ferry for this purpose.

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It said the conflict in the Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique predates its gas development in the region and is linked to many factors unrelated to Mozambique LNG.

TotalEnergies says Mozambique LNG implemented the measures required by the emergency and following security procedures, including a pre-established evacuation plan. Given the exceptional nature of the situation, Mozambique LNG evacuated a large number of civilians and provided emergency aid, medical care, and human and material resources to the civilians sheltering in the entrance to the site, it says.

As soon as the attacks had started and the situation had been assessed, Mozambique LNG lent its assistance to the Mozambican authorities, namely by supplying fuel for the evacuation and rescue operations. The runway at the Afungi site was used by the authorities of Mozambique and international organisations operating in the area to evacuate people by air.

Regarding the charge that it refused to supply fuel to DAG, TotalEnergies says the South African private security company that fought terrorist groups in northern Mozambique was contracted in 2020 by the government. TotalEnergies says its security at the Afungi site was provided by government security forces.

It says Mozambique LNG decided not support the offensive military operations carried out by DAG because in 2020 several NGOs reported serious crimes perpetrated by DAG against local people.

Care for Mozambique LNG staff and other contractors

TotalEnergies says the evacuation plan implemented in March 2021 in the aftermath of the attack on Palma involved all personnel working on the Afungi site, including those of Mozambique LNG’s contractors and their subcontractors.

It says, following the intensification of the terrorist threat, the number of employees of Mozambique LNG, its contractors and their subcontractors were significantly reduced in early 2021.

The remaining personnel were accommodated on the Afungi site and were instructed to remain inside the site at all times for security reasons. TotalEnergies says no contractors or subcontractors has informed Mozambique LNG of the presence of employees outside the Afungi site.