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Total faces criminal charges in French courts over Palma attack in Mozambique

A criminal complaint has been filed in France against Total for manslaughter and failure to assist a person in danger.

The charges were filed by survivors and families of victims of the devastating terror attack which happened in Palma, Mozambique on March 24, 2021.

Sources said Justiça Ambiental of the Friends of the Earth Mozambique and Friends of the Earth France had been warning since 2019 about Total’s responsibilities in developing its mega-gas project, Mozambique LNG.

This, according a sources, was despite the pre-existing and ongoing security and humanitarian situation, and the numerous human rights violations in the country.

Industry watchers have argued that the complaint against Total confirms that the French multinational had not taken the necessary measures in view of the serious existing risks.

While the situation in Cabo Delgado remains dramatic, Justiça Ambiental and Friends of the Earth France have denounced Total’s intention to restart operations by the end of the year, with the support of French banks Crédit Agricole and Société Générale.

NatureNews gathered that three years ago, Friends of the Earth France, Mozambique and International, had published an investigative report entitled “Gas in Mozambique: a windfall for the industry, a curse for the country”.

The report which was released in June 2020 had detailed the risks and impacts of the project on human rights, the environment, the climate, and the complicity of the French State.

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

NatureNews gathered that following the terrorist attack in Palma, which caused the death of almost 1,200 civilians, Total declared force majeure and suspended operations in April 2021.

Friends of the Earth said Total was merely seeking to free itself from its contractual obligations with its subcontractors, many of whom are local.

The organisation said the attacks did not only affected the workers of Total’s subcontractors, but above all aggravated the situation of the local populations displaced by the gas project, who were abandoned without land or livelihoods, and with the compensation process halted without certainty around when or if it would resume.

According to Friends of the Earth,the criminal complaint filed against Total confirms the transnational corporation’s scant regard for the local population and its subcontractors.

It said despite being aware of the deteriorating security situation in Cabo Delgado and the likelihood of an imminent terrorist attack, the company has been criticized for not even having adopted an evacuation plan.

Worse still, 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.

The complainants also alleged that prior to the attack, Total had pressured the Mozambican government to guarantee security to the gas area, which was reflected by the deployment of over 800 soldiers to protect Total’s Afungi site whereas there was no security protecting the town nor the civilians.

Anabela Lemos Director, says: “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. 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 complaint also refers to the Uprights study, commissioned by Friends of the Earth Mozambique, France and Europe which identified serious shortcomings in Total’s 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.

Juliette Renaud, Corporate Regulation Senior Campaigner with Friends of the Earth France, says: “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”.

Lorette Philippot, Private Finance Campaigner with Friends of the Earth France, says: “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.”

On September 27, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné announced to investors his goal of restarting the Mozambique LNG project by the end of 2023.

Activists are however insisting that fundamental issues remain unresolved and most of the shortcomings identified by the Uprights report have still not been addressed by Total.

Even though there are improvements in the security situation in Palma and around the project site, the Organisation noted that communities still don’t feel safe, civil society organizations and journalists are not operating freely, and the insurgency remains active in other areas of the province.

The Organization argued that the LNG project should not be resumed as on the ground reality remains problematic, adding that the gas contracts are unjust, and the risks to Mozambique’s people, climate and economy are extremely high.

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