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West Africa Pipeline Deal Raises Human Rights Concerns


The human rights group Amnesty International is accusing the giant U.S. oil company ExxonMobil of putting profits over human rights with its involvement in a West African oil pipeline.

ExxonMobil leads a group of oil companies that has financed a pipeline that connects the landlocked desert oil fields of Chad to an Atlantic Ocean seaport in Cameroon.

It first began operating in 2003, and pumps nearly 200,000 barrels of crude daily.

Mila Rosenthal, the director of Amnesty International's Business and Human Rights program, says the vast project has jeopardized the protection of human rights for thousands of people who live in the pipeline's path.

Ms. Rosenthal says this will allow the ExxonMobil-led consortium to sidestep the rule of law in Chad and Cameroon for many years.

"Amnesty International has found that the legal agreements between Exxon and the governments of Chad and Cameroon threaten the ability of these countries to effectively protect their citizens over the next seven decades,” she said. “What is at stake here is the sovereignty of national governments in the face of the overwhelming power of global corporations."

The pipeline project is worth $4.2 billion and is one of the largest private investments in sub-Saharan Africa.

Opponents have argued the pipeline threatens to pollute farmland and has disrupted people in local communities who were given cash compensation for moving out of its path.

Supporters say the project has employed thousands and in Chad 90 percent of oil revenues is spent on education, health care and rural development.

Peter Rosenblum is a law professor at Columbia University who specializes in human rights.

Mr. Rosenblum, who has visited Chad and the pipeline project, says agreements signed by Chad, Cameroon and the oil consortium contain so-called stability clauses that carry large financial penalties for the host governments if they interrupt any part of the oil operation in an effort to protect the human rights of local people.

"The stability clause is itself a potent disincentive,” he explained. “In the case of Chad, where the struggle for rights occurs primarily outside of international scrutiny, and where oil remains the only significant source of foreign investment and earnings, the disincentive is usually enough to crush any initiative for protecting human rights."

Mulenga Trish Katyoka is the Africa Advocacy Director for Amnesty International.

She says the agreements between the African countries and investors should not translate into further poverty for the people of Africa.

"They prevent governments from acting in their own best interests and the interests of their own citizens because corporate interests have the final word,” she said. “As long as this fundamental problem remains unchallenged, the poorest of the poor will continue to dwell in a spin of delusion and despair."

ExxonMobile spokeswoman Susan Reeves told VOA the company condemns human rights violations in any form and has expressed those views to governments and others around the world.

In an e-mail, Ms. Reeves says ExxonMobile regrets that Amnesty International did not consult the company while it was preparing its report.

She says the company has not yet had the opportunity to study the findings and would have no immediate comment on them.

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