, June 8, 2009 (ENS) - After legal battles lasting nearly 14 years, oil giant Royal Dutch Shell today paid a $15.5 million out-of-court settlement to plaintiffs from the Ogoni region of Nigeria. They claimed the company was complicit in human rights atrocities committed against the Ogoni people in the 1990s, including the government's 1995 execution of author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others.
While issuing a concilatory statement today, a Shell spokesman repeated the company's position that it admits no wrongdoing.
Malcolm Brinded, Shell's executive director of exploration and production, said in a statement, "This gesture also acknowledges that, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered."
The legal action in U.S. District Court in New York is one of the few cases brought under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute that have been resolved in favor of the plaintiffs. The settlement includes establishment of a $5 million trust to benefit local communities in the Ogoni region of Nigeria.
One of many protests against Shell's treatment of Nigeria's Ogoni people (Photo courtesy Remember Saro-Wiwa)
Plaintiff Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr., the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa, said today, "In reaching this settlement, we were very much aware that we are not the only Ogonis who have suffered in our struggle with Shell, which is why we insisted on creating the Kiisi Trust."
Kiisi means "progress" in the plaintiffs' Ogoni language. The Kiisi Trust will allow for initiatives in Ogoni for educational endowments, skills development, agricultural development, women's programs, small enterprise support, and adult literacy.
"We congratulate the plaintiffs on their victory. Let there be no doubt that Shell has emerged guilty. With this settlement, Shell is seeking to keep the overwhelming evidence of its crimes away from the scrutiny of a jury trial," said Ben Amunwa from the UK-based Remember Saro-Wiwa project.
"Shell could not stand the damage of bad publicity around this human rights case. Global campaigners have helped to highlight Shell's abuses and we share in this historic victory," Amunwa said.
Shell companies have been involved in oil and gas exploration and production in Nigeria since 1938. Today, Shell Petroleum Development Company is Nigeria's largest oil and gas company with eight gas plants and more than 1,000 producing wells.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a writer, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize.
An early member of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, organized and led nonviolent protests of up to 300,000 people against Shell's practices in Ogoniland, where crude oil extraction has taken place since the 1950s. The land and communities have suffered extreme and unremediated damage from decades of oil waste dumping and gas flaring, which continues today.
The plaintiffs claim that Shell grew increasingly concerned with the international prominence of the Ogoni movement and made payments to security forces that they knew to be engaging in human rights violations against the local communities.
The military government of General Sani Abacha violently repressed the demonstrations, arrested Ogoni activists, and falsely accused nine Ogoni activists of murder and bribed witnesses to give fake testimony. The nine were denied a fair trial and then hanged on November 10, 1995.
Ken Saro-Wiwa (Photo courtesy Wazobaa-Wazobia-Yoruba-Hausa-Igbo-Nigeria-News)
Today, the parties in Wiwa v. Shell agreed to settle human rights claims charging the Royal Dutch Shell company, its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company, and the former head of its Nigerian operation, Brian Anderson, with complicity in the torture, killing, and other abuses of Ogoni plaintiffs.
Han Shan, a human rights and environmental campaigner with Oil Change International supported the Ogoni campaign against Shell in the 1990s. At a celebration with the plaintiffs tonight, Shan told ENS the plaintiffs are pleased with the settlement, adding, "It really is a landmark."
"Some people, myself included, are disappointed to not see Shell on trial," said Shan. "A lot of legal precedent has been set with bringing the case thus far. Shell lost so many motions trying to throw this case out. Chief Judge Kimba Wood was very clear that case had tremendous legitimacy."
"The amount Shell offered was at the upper level of what the plaintiffs could expect at trial if they won," said Shan. "They are happy not to have to go to trial and then wait years if the judgement was appealed."
"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," said Shan.
Plaintiffs in the case include the relatives of the executed activists Ken Saro-Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Saturday Doobee, Daniel Gbokoo, Felix Nuate, and Dr. Barinem Kiobel.
Physician Dr. Owens Wiwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa's brother, and Michael Tema Vizor brought claims for the torture and detention that resulted in their exile from Nigeria.
Further claims were brought by Karalolo Kogbara, who lost her arm, and on behalf of Uebari N-nah, who was killed in attacks on Ogoni civilians.
Anthony DiCaprio, an attorney who has worked on the case for many years, commented, "Throughout this very long process, I have been humbled by our clients' unwavering courage and resilience. Their satisfaction with the result that we have been able to achieve is extremely gratifying."
The next phase of the Ogoni struggle continues with another case with an Ogoni plaintiff appealing a judgement of the U.S. District Court, and a further legal action in The Hague, Netherlands, where Royal Dutch Shell is headquartered.
The company faces a legal action there for repeated oil spills, brought by residents of the Niger Delta, with support from Friends of the Earth Netherlands and Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
"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 U.S. "Communities, human rights lawyers and activists will continue to demand justice with the same determination and hope shown by Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.
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