At least 2,000 unmarked graves were destroyed, interfered with or just disrespected along the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) route, a report has established.
The report dubbed ‘As If Nothing Is Sacred’ and released Thursday by GreenFaith, an international multi-faith climate justice organisation, outlined disregard for international practice by the major EACOP stakeholder.
“TotalEnergies has consistently failed to respect local customs and traditions related to the treatment of graves. In addition, the company did not follow international best practices related to identifying grave sites, developing plans to relocate affected graves, providing compensation for impacted families, and respecting the spiritual and religious needs of affected family and community members ,” the report read in part.
According to testimonies recorded in the report, some families were either compensated dismally for the disturbed graves, or not given adequate time to rebury after exhumation to give way for the pipeline expected to run 1,443-km between Uganda and Tanzania’s Tanga Port.
“Project officials neglected on many occasions to use due diligence and advanced survey techniques such as ground-penetrating radar, even when local community members made it clear that graves were located in the proposed work area,” the report read.
This is the technology projects such as EACOP use “to identify potential impediments to construction such as cultural artifacts or grave sites which require careful excavation,” as per the report.
This comes after at least 30 faith leaders met in Uganda on Wednesday, before the report’s release, and condemned the disregard for what is sacred for Africans. During the launch of the ‘As If Nothing Is Sacred’ report earlier today in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, more religious leaders demanded respect for what is sacred to communities in the grassroots. They appealed to the governments of Uganda and Tanzania, which support the project, to listen to religious leaders and understand the true plight of the affected.
“It was traumatizing enough that TotalEnergies, supported by Uganda and Tanzania governments, displaced thousands of families along the proposed pipeline’s route. But the finding that even the dead cannot rest in peace in over 2,000 graves is akin to trashing everything sacred to an African,” read the statement.
According to TotalEnergies’ own public documents, the EACOP project will cause the disturbance of at least 1,031 graves in Uganda, and 1,053 in Tanzania.
The religious leaders emphasized that “the majority of communities in East Africa bury their loved ones in their compounds, many of them in unmarked graves either due to preference, poverty, religion, or specific cultural beliefs”. The clerics from Christian and Muslim faiths said any disturbance of such graves caused psychological torture. “When our dead rest in peace, quite literally, the living go about their daily routines in peace as well. No one wants to be haunted,” the statement, posted in the organisation’s website, read.
Also at the meetings in Uganda and Tanzania were members of the community, who told their stories, but insisted on anonymity.
For over two years, GreenFaith has called for abandonment of the EACOP and Tilenga projects. According to TotalEnergies’ own documents, the EACOP project will cause disturbance of at least 1,031 graves in Uganda and 1,053 in Tanzania.
The report now recommends reimbursement where financial losses were incurred due to EACOP project’s inadequate provisions, and that where religious or cultural needs remain unresolved, the gap between activities to date and international best practice be bridged.
Besides, GreenFaith wants graves that are still in the path of the project relocated and those that were moved but have structural flaws “brought up to the standard that would be expected on a Project of this scale”.
“Our faiths are pro-life, and recognise the sanctity with which African communities regard their departed loved ones’ graves, besides the spiritual and cultural traditions of the affected communities,” the faith leaders said.
They decried brutality meted on activists opposed to the EACOP project and the fact that should it proceed, the heated crude oil pipeline will increase Uganda and Tanzania’s carbon footprints 25 times “over the current annual emissions combined”.
“EACOP will disproportionately benefit only a few. Oil drilling in Africa has significantly negatively affected the environment, communities, and economies. Oil spills and gas flaring won’t stop in the Niger Delta and have caused extensive environmental damage, besides soil and water pollution,” they said.
They reiterated the normalcy in some African cultures, where communities live “not too far from the graves of our loved ones”.
“TotalEnergies must recognize the sanctity of life and protect it. We demand justice for the affected. We demand the well-being of our communities and the environment. We cannot ignore the spiritual, traditional, and cultural wounds and trauma that this project poses to affected communities,” the statement concluded.