Shell Settles in Human Rights Lawsuit

Pro-human rights protesters outside Shell\'s annual meeting, May 19, 2009

Royal Dutch Shell has decided to settle three lawsuits over its alleged complicity in human rights abuses in the Niger Delta rather than allow them to go to open trial.

The suits accused the company of involvement in the 1995 imprisonment, torture and executions of nine activists who had been spearheading efforts to gain human and environmental rights for the Ogoni people of the oil-rich Niger Delta.  Those executed included including well-known author Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Shell settled with the 10 plaintiffs in the suits for some $15.5 million. The money will be used to benefit the plaintiffs, who include survivors of the executed activists, as well as to pay attorney’s fees and to create a trust to benefit the Ogoni people.  Shell has admitted to no wrong-doing in the settlement.

$15.5 million may seem like a small sum compared to the billions of dollars in profit that Shell regularly rakes in.  But by any measure, this is a huge victory in the movement to hold such multinational corporations accountable for violations of human rights and environmental justice.

“I believe they settled because they didn’t want the public exposure of their relationship with the military government and their involvement in human rights abuses in Ogoni and in Nigeria,” Judith Brown Chomsky, a lead attorney in the case against Shell, told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman.

In a prepared statement, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which helped represent the plaintiffs, noted that Shell “agreed to settle human rights claims charging… complicity in the torture, killing, and other abuses of Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and other non-violent Nigerian activists in the mid-1990s in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta.” (Emphasis mine.)

I have to imagine Shell’s lawyers got a crack at this press release before it went out, and that was the language they agreed to. That speaks volumes.

But it’s an even bigger victory for the Ogoni people. According to the press release,

Plaintiff Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr., the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa explained, “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.” The Kiisi Trust—Kiisi means “Progress” in the plaintiffs’ Ogoni language—will allow for initiatives in Ogoni for educational endowments, skills development, agricultural development, women’s programs, small enterprise support, and adult literacy.

Human and environmental rights abuses like those in Nigeria are one of the darkest sides of the world’s addition to oil.  Slashing fossil energy use in order to stop global warming will hopefully bring an end to these particular crimes — whether they make it trial or not.

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Image: Protestors in San Francisco on the day of Shell’s annual general meeting, May 19, 2009. Via Justice in Nigeria Now.

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