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Chad-Cameroon Project Violates Human Rights

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One of Africa's largest development projects, the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline, is producing human rights violations along with its oil, says Amnesty International. According to a September report, the governments of Chad and Cameroon, and the ExxonMobil-led consortium that includes Chevron and Petronas, Malaysia's state oil company, have been violating human rights and creating a climate of intimidation.

The pipeline runs 1,070 kilometers, from the Doba oil fields in southern Chad to Kribi, on the coast of southwest Cameroon, and includes about 300 oil wells. The oil-company consortium picked up 80 percent of the estimated $4.2 billion cost of the project; the balance came from the governments, financed by loans from the World Bank and the European Investment Bank.

The inauguration of the pipeline prompted a national day of mourning by civil groups in Chad. Since then, villagers have been denied access to clean water, farmers have been denied access to their lands, and fish stocks off Cameroon's coast have been destroyed.
More recently, according to a letter from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) to president Idriss Déby of Chad, two former oil company employees were killed, three seriously injured, and 30 arrested by Chadian national police at a September 18 sit-in at ExxonMobil. The employees protested because 4,000 workers had not received promised overtime pay.

Human rights abuses could continue for the 70-year life of the pipeline, and Amnesty's report notes a framework of agreements that could prevent companies from being held accountable. Cameroon and Chad have signed contracts with the oil companies recognizing that the governments may be liable for penalties for disrupting the pipeline or oil fields, even if the disruption is to protect human rights.

Andrea Shemberg, legal advisor to Amnesty International UK, called for amendments to the agreements, writing: “Human rights are not negotiable items that companies and governments are permitted to eliminate by contract.”

Chevron and Petronas responded by referring all concerns to ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil responded that it condemns human rights violations.

Sarah Fort is a writer and human rights activist in Washington D.C.
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