By Stephen C. Webster
A landmark human rights lawsuit accusing Royal Dutch Shell of complicity in the execution of author and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa some 14 years ago, will be settled for $15.5 million just days before its trial was set to begin.
The company called its payment a “humanitarian gesture” in a statement published by The New York Times.
“In a statement, the company said the agreement ‘will provide funding for the trust and a compassionate payment to the plaintiffs and the estates they represent in recognition of the tragic turn of events in Ogoni land, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place,’” noted the Times.
“Today, plaintiffs and defendants reached a settlement in the human rights cases brought against Royal Dutch Petroleum Company,” lawyers for the plaintiffs said.
“We want to express our satisfaction that these cases have provided the plaintiffs with substantial compensation for their claims.”
The trial was expected to reveal in unprecedented detail the company’s activities in the Niger-Delta region.
The Center for Constitutional Rights and Earth Rights International, along with Mr. Wiwa’s son, alleged with their lawsuit that the International oil company “financed, armed, and otherwise colluded with the Nigerian military forces that used deadly force and conducted massive, brutal raids against the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta.”
They claimed Shell was complicit in the 1995 military executions of nine activist leaders, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, though the company continued to deny the allegation on Monday.
“Shell began oil production in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria in 1958,” the groups said on a Web site dedicated to promoting the suit. “After more than 30 years of environmental devastation and exploitation by Shell, a popular nonviolent movement of the Ogoni people developed in the early 1990s in opposition to its presence in the region. At the request of Shell, and with Shell’s assistance and financing, Nigerian soldiers used deadly force and massive, brutal raids against the Ogoni people throughout the early 1990s to repress the growing movement against the oil company.”
“Ken Saro-Wiwa, with eight other Ogoni rights activists, was executed by Nigeria’s military dictatorship in 1995,” reported the Guardian. “The men were a constant irritant to the generals, reminding the world that their lands in the Niger Delta were being wrecked and their health and livelihoods destroyed by gas flaring, oil spills and military attacks. Imprisonment and beatings failed to shut them up. So the government constructed false charges against these men, paid people to pose as witnesses and hanged them.”
“The suit says the company tried to bribe two men to testify against Saro-Wiwa at his trial before a special tribunal,” reported the Financial Times.
“‘Almost daily you get a reminder that your father was hanged for a crime he didn’t commit,’ Mr Saro-Wiwa Jr told the Financial Times. ‘We’ve always maintained that Shell was complicit in the conspiracy to silence my father and thousands of other Ogonis.’”
“Shell accounts for more than 40% of Nigeria’s total petroleum production of 899,000 barrels per day from more than eighty fields,” noted Persian network PressTV.
“Oil revenues account for 90% of Nigerian export earnings and 80% of the government’s total revenue. Shell accounts for just over half of Nigeria’s total production.”
The settlement is not the end of Shell’s legal troubles. Separate challenges are being mounted in New York by an Ogoni and by environmental activists in The Netherlands.
“Shell will be dragged from the boardroom to the courthouse, time and again, until the company addresses the injustices at the root of the Niger Delta crisis and put an end to its environmental devastation,” said Elizabeth Bast, International Program Director for Friends of the Earth US.
Han Shan, at Oil Change International, said: “This case should be a wake up call to multinational corporations that they will be held accountable for violations of international law, no matter where they occur.”