In 1997, Delphine Djiraibe, a human rights lawyer in Chad, heard about her government's plans to drill oil in the area where she grew up, the Doba Bassin. The project, known as the "Chad-Cameroon Pipeline," was kept very secret by the authorities. Delphine learned that an international oil consortium and both governments would drill over 300 wells in the breadbasket of Chad and lay pipelines through Chad and Cameroon to the Kribi Coast. Though this project has been promoted by the World Bank and other sponsors as the only way for Chad to emerge from its dire poverty, she questioned what impact the project would have on people in the area. Nigeria's brutal history with Shell and Chevron just next door was well known.
As the founder and chief attorney of the Public Interest Law Center, Delphine had been working for many years on strengthening respect for human rights in a country where independent justice and freedom of expression do not exist, where torture, rape and extra-judicial killings are frequent occurrences, and where a civil war is still raging. She feared that without adequate safeguards the Chad-Cameroon project could lead to wide-scale human rights abuses. Her fears were soon confirmed when government forces massacred over 200 people in the Doba region in an effort to "impose peace" so oil extraction could proceed.
Delphine became a determined advocate for the local communities. Though her work had mainly focused on traditional human rights issues, in understanding the threats the pipeline would create for the local people and their homeland, she also became a defender of the environment. In Chad, where all people depend on nature for their vital needs, she realized that when the natural environment is destroyed, their rights are inevitably violated.
Since then Delphine has been a relentless organizer of the local efforts and a spokesperson for those who were afraid to speak out against this project. She channeled the mobilization in the region, initiated advocacy efforts, contacted international activists to express concerns and suggest solutions, disseminated information and worked with northern NGOs to lobby the World Bank and other institutions involved in this project - despite the great personal risks her advocacy brought upon her.
To receive CIEL's monthy newletter, click here.