EACJ to rule on lower chamber hearing oil pipeline project case

The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) appellate division on Tuesday agreed to determine if the Court’s lower chamber has jurisdiction to hear the case challenging the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (Eacop) from Hoima in Uganda to the Tanzanian port of Tanga.

The decision, for now, puts on hold the dismissal by a judge of the EACJ’s First Instance Division who in November last year threw out the case, citing the court’s lack of jurisdiction to hear it and that it was filed out of time, prompting the litigants to lodge an appeal.

In a hearing on Tuesday, a panel of the EACJ appeals division, comprising of the Court’s President Justice Nestor Kayobera, Vice President Justice Anita Mugeni, Justice Kathurina M’Inoti, Justice Cheborion Barishaki and Justice Omar Othman Makungu, set March 22, 2024 for the petitioners to file their written submissions, a statement said.  

Read: Insurers distance themselves from Eacop project

“The appellate court will only use the written submissions to determine whether the First Instance Court has jurisdiction to hear the case,” said a party to the case, who attended the hearing at the Arusha-based EACJ.

The Court further asked the governments of Uganda and Tanzania as well as East African Community (EAC) Secretary General Dr Peter Mathuki, who are the respondents in the case, to file their counter arguments by April 22, 2024. 


The appellants are also expected to file any rejoinders to the counter arguments that are to be submitted by the two states and Dr Mathuki by May 6, 2024.

The EACJ’s decision to determine if the lower chamber can hear the case is a relief and procedural minor victory for activists who have suffered bruising defeats in several courts, including in France, where they run to in the hope to stop French oil giant TotalEnergies from developing the 1443km pipeline that is expected to cost $5 billion. 

In November 2020, four East African non-governmental organisations (NGOs) filed the court case as part of a series of action s to challenge the construction of the world’s longest heated pipeline that will transport crude oil from Uganda’s oilfields in the west to Tanga port for export to the international markets.

The NGOs include Uganda based Africa Institute for Energy Governance (Afiego) and Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights, alongside Kenya’s Natural Justice activist group and Centre for Strategic Litigation from Tanzania.

“We are happy that the court has set in motion processes to ensure that justice is served for the benefit of communities. Communities and East Africans in general rely on their natural and other resources to make a living and any projects such as the Eacop that threaten these resources should be challenged,” said Afiego CEO Dickens Kamugisha.

Read: Did Ugandan watchdog go soft on Eacop?

The petitioners argue that Eacop violates key East African and international treaties and laws including the EAC Treaty, Protocol for Sustainable Development of the Lake Victoria basin, Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

They also cite the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights as well as the African Convention on Conservation of Natural Resources in their case filed in November 2020, asking the EACJ to issue temporary and permanent injunctions stopping the development of the pipeline.

On November 29, 2023, the First Instance Division of EACJ dismissed the case, following preliminary objections raised by Tanzania’s Solicitor General Gabriel Malata, arguing that it was time barred and that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

“We are committed to protect both the environment and the well-being of the people in East Africa. We believe our submissions will help the court understand the environmental impact of the pipeline,” said Farida Aliwa, executive director of Natural Justice.

“We want the court to recognise how the pipeline affects our environment and the delicate ecological balance we work hard to maintain. We are determined to present our case and support the sustainable future of East Africa,” Ms Aliwa added.

A Uganda government lawyer, who declined to be named as he is not cleared to speak on the matter, said the respondents will continue to argue that this case cannot proceed because it was filed out of time, as the First Instance Court found last year and agreed with the Tanzania solicitor general.

Source:  The East African

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