Shell on Trial: About Wiwa v. Shell
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“I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial… There is no doubt in my mind that the crimes of the Company’s dirty war against the Ogoni people will be punished….” –Ken Saro-Wiwa, before the military tribunal that sentenced him to death, 1995

On May 26, 2009 Shell will stand trial to face charges of complicity in egregious human rights abuses in Nigeria.

Responding to appeals from individuals who were tortured and family members of people who were killed, both by soldiers working with Shell, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and EarthRights International (ERI), with help from other human rights attorneys, brought a series of cases to hold Shell accountable for human rights violations in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary arrest and detention. The lawsuits have been brought against Royal Dutch Shell and Brian Anderson, the head of Shell’s Nigerian operation.

The cases were brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 statute giving non-U.S. citizens the right to file suits in U.S. courts for international human rights violations, and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows individuals to seek damages in the U.S. for torture or extrajudicial killing, regardless of where the violations take place. Several cases involving the various charges have been consolidated into one trial, referred to as Wiwa v. Shell.

Wiwa v. Shell charges Shell with requesting, financing, and assisting the Nigerian military which used deadly force to repress opposition to Shell’s operations in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta. The lawsuit also charges Shell with conspiring with the Nigerian military dictatorship in the prosecution of the leaders of this movement – the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Shell bribed witnesses to give false testimony, ultimately leading to a death sentence for nine men, including acclaimed author, activist, and leader of MOSOP Ken Saro-Wiwa. On November 10th, 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were hanged.

As Ken Saro-Wiwa’s son Ken Wiwa told The Observer on April 9th:

“We need to know the truth. We need to have people account for their role in the executions and the displacement of the Ogoni people, many of whom feel traumatised. It will be a relief. It will enable people to face the future. That’s the most important thing. Let’s account for the past, so we can move forward.”

This landmark trial for human rights and corporate accountability will be watched by people around the world, including public officials, corporate executives, the legal community, human rights and corporate social responsibility campaigners, and of course, those who have suffered the abuses in Shell in Nigeria, and around the world.

If Shell is found to be liable, it will send shockwaves through corporate boardrooms worldwide and send a signal that corporations can be held liable for committing human rights abuses no matter where they occur.

And even if Shell, with its massive resources, is somehow able to prevail in court and convince the jury that it wasn’t responsible for the crimes that no-one disputes happened, we have an unprecedented opportunity – and responsibility – to do everything we can to hold Shell accountable for its ongoing crimes against people and the planet we all depend on.

We’re turning up the heat on Shell to demand that it comes clean:

- Stop gas flaring in Nigeria, a practice devastating to the environment and human health, and a significant contributor to global warming.

- Disclose its role in the abuses committed against the Ogoni people in Nigeria, including the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9.

To learn more about Wiwa v. Shell, visit

“Lord take my soul but the struggle continues…”
–Ken Saro-Wiwa’s last words

Shell: Guilty of Human Rights Abuses

For nearly thirty years, Shell has been complicit in human rights abuses in Nigeria. On May 26th 2009, Shell will stand trial in a US federal court to answer charges relating to some of the incidents of abuse, including conspiring with the Nigerian military government to prosecute and execute revered community activists who led a nonviolent movement to oppose what they called Shell’s “ecological war” in their lands.

A short timeline of Shell’s role in Human Rights Abuses in Nigeria:

The community of Iko sent a letter to Shell and the Federal government demanding “compensation and restitution of our rights to clean air, water, and a viable environment.” They received no reply. Two years later they peacefully demonstrated against Shell asking them to be a “good neighbour to us.” The police were called and demonstrators were arrested and mistreated.

The community of Iko once again held a peaceful demonstration. In response Shell called in the Mobile Police Force (known as locally as the Kill and Go), who were transported in three company speedboats. Two people were killed, nearly forty houses destroyed and 350 people made homeless.

The Etche people peacefully demonstrated against Shell at the village of Umuechem “because they had seen Shell continually exploit their land without adequate compensation”, according to one villager. Shell specifically requested the Mobile Police Force.”

The MPF subsequently massacred eighty people and destroyed 495 houses, as well as countless vehicles and motor cycles. The subsequent Commission of Inquiry heard from the villagers how the demonstrations were peaceful. The reason for their protest was that Shell’s “drilling operations have had serious adverse effects on the Umuechem people who are predominantly farmers, in that their lands had been acquired and their crops damaged with little or no compensation, and are thus left without farmlands or means of livelihood. Their farmlands are covered by oil spillage / blow-out and rendered unsuitable for farming.”

Ken Saro-Wiwa and other community leaders from the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta form the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and begin organizing for political, economic, and environmental justice.

January 4th, Ogoni. 300,000 people march against Shell in what has become known as Ogoni day. According to MOSOP leader Ken Saro-Wiwa, “The march is against the devastation of the environment. It is against the non-payment of royalties. It is anti-Shell. It is anti-Federal Government, because as far as we are concerned the two are in league to destroy the Ogoni people”.

In late April 1993, the American contractor Willbros started bulldozing farmland in Ogoni pipeline. This provoked mass demonstrations that were totally peaceful according to Human Rights Watch. When Karololo Kogbara attempted to collect what was left of her crops, she was shot by soldiers in the arm, that later had to be amputated. She is now one of the plaintiffs in the legal case against Shell.

On May 3rd, thousands of protestors gathered to complain about the shooting. This time another demonstrator, Agbarator Otu, was shot dead in the back. A further twenty people were injured.

In October Shell was eager to re-enter Ogoni and visited the village of Korokoro accompanied by “security personnel provided by the government”. The community protested against the visit. But later that month 24 armed personnel returned to “dialogue” with the community. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Okuntimo, soldiers from the 2nd Amphibious Brigade accompanied Shell staff into Ogoni. These soldiers were being paid field allowances by Shell.

Three people were shot, resulting in the death of one person, Uebari N-nah. His relatives are also plaintiffs in the legal case against Shell. Saro-Wiwa called it “unprovoked murder” and “further confirmation of the collaboration of Shell and the Nigerian security forces in the genocide of the Ogoni people.” Shell would deny paying the military for years, but finally conceded that it had done so on this occasion and also in relation to the Willbros incident.

As the Ogoni campaign intensified through 1993 and 1994, the backlash wrought on them by the military would be beyond the comprehension of most people. The military campaign of repression led to some 2,000 Ogoni being killed, some 30,000 made homeless; countless others tortured and raped.

In May 1994 Lt. Col. Okuntimo, who responsible for orchestrating the campaign of terror, wrote a memo just nine days before the murder of the four Ogoni for which Saro-Wiwa would later be tried. The memo said: “Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence”. To counter this, Okuntimo had recommended “Wasting operations during Mosop and other gatherings making constant military presence justifiable.”

Okuntimo later admitted that “he was doing it all for Shell … But he was not happy because the last time he had asked Shell to pay his men their out-station allowances he had been refused which was not the usual procedure”.

Okuntimo also went on to have had had undue influence at Saro-Wiwa’s trial, including attending conferences for the defence lawyers, closeness to the prosecution and probable access to members of the Tribunal.

In March 1995, a meeting took place between four senior Shell officials, the Nigerian High Commissioner and the Nigerian Army and Police at the Shell Centre in London where a strategy was planned against the protests.

But the protests against Shell continued and so did the violence against the protestors. Human Rights Watch argued that “Because the abuses set in motion by Shell’s reliance on military protection in Ogoniland continue, Shell cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the acts of the military … the Nigerian military’s defence of Shell’s installations has become so intertwined with its repression of minorities in the oil-producing areas that Shell cannot reasonably sever the two.”

Saro-Wiwa’s brother, Owens Wiwa, secretly met the head of Shell Nigeria, Brian Anderson between May and July in order to explore ways of securing Saro-Wiwa’s release. Anderson told Owens that “He would be able to help us get Ken freed if we stopped the protest campaign abroad”.

In November, Saro-Wiwa and the eight others were executed. Shell has always maintained that his execution was nothing to do with them. But Okuntimo’s undue influence was not the only anomaly with the trial. As the lawsuit Wiwa v. Shell outlines:

“Shell was involved in the development of the strategy that resulted in the unlawful execution of the Ogoni Nine. Shell told the Nigerian regime they needed to deal with Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP. Shell monitored Ken Saro-Wiwa, and closely followed the tribunal and his detention. Prior to the trial, Shell Nigeria told its parent companies that Saro-Wiwa would be convicted and told witnesses that Saro-Wiwa was never going free. Shell held meetings with the Nigerian regime to discuss the tribunal, including with the military president Sani Abacha himself. Shell’s lawyer attended the trial, which, in Nigeria, is a privilege afforded only to interested parties.”

‘Restricted’ documents from the British Foreign Office note that Shell’s lawyer’s presence “sits unhelpfully with Shell’s insistence that the trial does not directly concern them.”

An affidavit would later be signed by one of the two chief prosecution witnesses, Charles Danwi. It alleged that he had been bribed by Shell and others to testify against Saro-Wiwa. It read: “He was told that he would be given a house, a contract from Shell and Ompadec and some money … He was given 30,000 Naira … At a later meeting security agents, government officials and …representatives of Shell and Ompadec were all present”.

Another affidavit from the other Chief prosecution witness, Nayone Akpa, was signed alleging that he was offered “30,000 Naira, employment with the Gokana Local Government, weekly allowances and contracts with Ompadec and Shell” if he signed a document that implicated Saro-Wiwa too. Shell denied bribing the witnesses.

May: MOSOP reported that Major Obi, the new Head of the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, had summoned two secret meetings of chiefs in the Ogoni villages of Kpor and Bori, during which they were forced to sign documents calling for Shell’s return to Ogoni.

November: The revelations that, despite numerous denials, Shell had in fact being paying the military were published in the international press. In his last interview before being killed in plane crash, the Nigerian academic, the Director of the Centre for Advanced Social Science in Port Harcourt and UN advisor, Claude Ake responded by saying that: “This has always been our point. That Shell is driving the violence by exaggerating the need for security, by exaggerating the anger in the mineral producing areas and by its support to people who have been maintaining security”. He called the payment to Lt Col Okuntimo “a clear act of hostility against the people of the Niger Delta.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights and EarthRights International begin legal action against Shell to hold it accountable for human rights violations in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary arrest and detention.

The World Council of Churches issued a report confirming the dire situation in the Delta: “A quiet state of siege prevails even today in Ogoniland. Intimidation, rape, arrests, torture, shooting and looting by the soldiers continue to occur.”

As of mid-1997, Shell told Human Rights Watch that 186 armed members of the regular Nigerian police force, employed by the Nigerian government rather than Shell, were deployed to its facilities in Nigeria, including several dog handlers. Shell stated that it employed 594 supernumerary police, of which the company said ten to twenty were armed, after application from Shell to the authorities for them to do so.

July: Youths in Rivers State were detained overnight following a written complaint to the local police station by Alcon Engineering, a contractor to Shell. Elsewhere Shell called in police assistance after more youths protested. After making inquiries, Human Rights Watch later wrote that “Shell did not report that any guarantees had been sought for the good behavior of these police.”

Human Right Watch accused Shell and other multinational oil companies of being “complicit in abuses committed by the Nigerian military and police because they fail to condemn them publicly and to intervene with the Nigerian government to help ensure that they do not recur.”

There was a community protest against the Bonny LNG plant, in which Shell has a 25 per cent stake in September 1999. Community leader Goddy Jumbo described how “Experts told us that anyone who drank the water could contract some fatal diseases, including cancer … in Bonny now you cannot distinguish day from night and the NLNG’s doing nothing about this.”

After their requests for a meeting were refused, they organised a peaceful demonstration. According to Goddy Jumbo: “Before we knew what was happening . . . the American security manager for . . . the consortium of contracting firms handling the construction of the LNG plants, fired into the crowd. Then he ordered the team of mobile policemen to shoot … He shot two people down, then he ordered the mobile policemen who had come towards us . . . They also started shooting and throwing tear gas at us. I had been shot in the leg and went down bleeding profusely. When my people saw me down and bleeding—there was blood everywhere, even my shoes were full of blood—they carried me away.”

Ogoni. Amnesty International received reports that at least one person has been killed in Ogoni, possibly more with homes burnt by the Police. Reports from the scene indicated “that the police raid was an unprovoked attack on K-Dere because its residents had opposed a roadbuilding project by a company contracted to the Shell oil company,” said Amnesty.

After the local community retaliated, the police killed at least five people and burned down homes, including those of Ledum Mitee the leader of MOSOP and two traditional rulers. Others arrested were beaten and denied medical attention.

August: 3,000 Ilaje, Ijaw, and Itsekiri women arrived at the operational headquarters of Shell and Chevron affiliates in Warri and barricaded the doors. The women were unarmed, and their protest was peaceful.

Witnesses would later tell Amnesty International that a combined force of military and mobile police arrived at the gate of SPDC from inside the premises of the company and threw tear gas as they were approaching the women. When the security forces arrived at the level of the protesters, witnesses claim that they began to whip, kick and beat the women with the back of their guns. Some of the women were nearly ninety years old and others had young babies.

A leaked report by consultants working for Shell identified that Shell was part of the problem of violence. The report concluded that the way the company operates “creates, feeds into, or exacerbates conflict” and that “after over 50 years in Nigeria” Shell had become “an integral part of the Niger Delta conflict system”.

It noted that the company’s “social license to operate is fast eroding”. Secondly “If current conflict trends continue uninterrupted, it would be surprising if SCIN [Shell Companies in Nigeria] is able to continue on-shore resource extraction in the Niger Delta beyond 2008, whilst complying with Shell Business Principles”.

That same year, as the violence spread in the Delta, Human Rights Watch called on Shell and the other oil companies in Nigeria to “take immediate measures to prevent further violence and abuses around Warri in the oil-rich Niger delta”.

Shell admitted that “ Due to the security situation in the Niger Delta, the Nigerian government from time to time deploys teams of combined forces to patrol areas around our facilities. These forces are paid by the government and, when requested by the government, we provide logistics support”. However the company maintains that “It is illegal to hire private security in Nigeria. Many companies use supernumerary police officers, who are assigned to protect companies’ facilities from crime. We do not pay ‘top up fees’. We do pay field allowances as requested by the government as part of our logistics support”.

At least 17 people were reported to have been killed and two women raped when soldiers raided the Ijaw community of Odioma, Bayelsa State. The attack was ostensibly to arrest members of an armed vigilante group whose members were reported to have been recruited by a sub-contractor of Shell. The suspects were not captured but, over a period of a few days, around 80 per cent of the homes in Odioma were destroyed.

In September, the Iwherekan community in Delta State held a community forum on gas flaring, focusing on Shell’s operations. The forum included journalists and representatives of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, as well as community elders, women, and children.

Without provocation, Nigerian soldiers arrested and detained the forum participants, about 25 people, for about five hours. “Why is governmnet colluding with oil companies to shield the world from knowing the impact of gas flaring on the lives of Niger Delta people? ” asked Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

Later that month, Nnimmo Bassey testified before the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law in Washington. “Oil companies, including Chevron and Shell, have repeatedly used the Nigerian military to violently repress Delta inhabitants’ peaceful protests, causing deaths and injuries, and creating an environment in which ordinary citizens are unable to exercise their rights to free expression”, he said.

May: After thirteen years and numerous attempts by Shell to have the legal case thrown out, the lawsuit Wiwa v. Shell will finally be heard at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Tags: africa, corporate power, corporations, corruption, environmentalism, ethics, free, free speech, gas, human rights violations, More…ken saro-wiwa, murder, niger delta, nigeria, oil, shell oil, supression

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Replies to This Discussion

No prob. I've not done it on purpose really. It is just that I'm on so many email lists, and the topic keeps rearing its head, so I've been crossposting the articles I've received or run across here. I thought: Why not? I've read most of them, but not everything.
More turmoil in the Niger Delta. Listen here: Nigerian Military Seizes Former Rebel Stronghold.


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