US Supreme Court to hear Shell-Nigeria rights case

17 October 2011, Sweetcrude, Washington — The US Supreme Court said Monday it will consider a lawsuit accusing Royal Dutch Shell of human rights abuses, a case that could make US firms liable for torture or genocide committed overseas.

The plaintiffs — relatives of seven Nigerians killed by the country’s former military regime — sued the Anglo-Dutch energy giant and other firms for apparently enlisting the government to suppress resistance to oil exploration in the Niger Delta in the 1990s.

The case will assess the potential liability of corporations — not just natural persons — under the Alien Tort Statute, a US law dating back to 1789 which scholars say was meant to assure foreign governments that the United States would help prevent breaches of international law.

The 12 Nigerian plaintiffs charge Shell with “complicity in human rights violations committed against them in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta in Nigeria between 1992 and 1995,” according to their complaint put before the court.

“These violations included torture, extra-judicial executions and crimes against humanity.”
The Kiobel versus Royal Dutch Petroleum case will be heard by the high court alongside a new torture case, Mohamad versus Rajoun, which involves the family of an American who died from torture injuries in 1995 inflicted by Palestinian Authority officers.

A US appeals court in New York ruled in both cases that corporations or political organizations were immune to such liability.

The Supreme Court’s 2011-2012 term began this month, and the nine justices are expected to issue their decision on the cases by the end of the session next June or July.

The Kiobel case was part of a broader set of legal complaints by Nigeria’s Ogoni people, who argued that Royal Dutch Shell was complicit in murder, torture and other abuses committed by the country’s former military government.

The victims included Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and others executed in 1995 in what plaintiffs said was a campaign of repression backed by the oil giant.

Saro-Wiwa had led a non-violent campaign to protest environmental destruction and abuses against the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta before he was hanged along with other activists after his trial in a military court.

In 2009 Shell agreed to pay out $15.5 million to relatives of the victims, in what it hoped would be the end of a long legal battle and avoidance of a potentially embarrassing court case.

Shell maintained its innocence throughout, saying the settlement was a “humanitarian gesture” to help the Ogoni, but human rights lawyers in New York two years ago hailed the agreement as a precedent for holding Shell and other oil giants responsible for activities in countries with repressive governments.

That case did not mark the end of Shell’s legal troubles. Esther Kiobel, wife of Ogoni activist Barinem Kiobel, who was executed along with Saro-Wiwa, did not participate in the settlement and pressed on with her suit.

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  • In 2003 Transparency International rated Nigeria as the most corrupt place on Earth until Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala seupsodly changed all of that at TED Africa where we got bashed for only bad mouthing Africa. She talked about how to help Africa and do business there We know the negative images of Africa — famine and disease, conflict and corruption….. there’s another, less-told story happening in many African nations, one of reform, economic growth and business opportunity At the time, a lot of people including I wrote a lot of rubbish about these same issues including the Abacha loot since corruption is not on the wane as she and others would have us believe at the time.I have since written that everything else I have commented on corruption is trash when I came across (via TED) the Friends of the stolen asset recovery initiative . The World Bank, in partnership with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), launched it on September 17, 2007. It is an initiative to help developing countries recover assets stolen by corrupt leaders, help invest them in effective development programs and combat safe havens internationally.The FStar team has tons of documents, facts and figures since 25% of the gross domestic product of African states is lost to corruption every year at the cost of about $148 billion. These people used to have a place to hide but with free storage from google, msn, IBM and others there is room to document everything including the history of the money trail. It is no longer the question of looted treasury, it is transparent accounting of in/out that will stem the tide of corruption in the end.According to post-Abacha governmental sources, some $3 or $4 billion USD in foreign assets have been traced to Abacha, his family and their representatives, $2.1 billion of which the OBJ government tentatively came to an agreement with the Abacha family to return, with the quid pro quo being that the Abachas would be allowed to keep the rest of the money. Source , log in and write history, we have all earned the right to.

  • I cannot speak to Saro-Wiwa’s case spciefically, but I can address the Shell mindset from around 1990 when I worked for Shell Western E & P in Houston (one of literally dozens of Shell entities in Houston). I was commissioned to write event-tracking software for safety incidents and environmental incidents. One quantity to be tracked was exceedances (exceedences? no one was ever certain of the spelling), i.e., cases in which spills or upsets of dangerous substances exceeded legal thresholds for those substances. How did the project manager decide to handle exceedances? He created a number called “opportunities for exceedance,” the number and total amount of spills that could be committed without exceeding the law. For each relevant substance, my program was to report not just the number and quantity of spills, but the number and quantity that could have been committed without violating the threshold set in law. Of course the laws were lax, and always made Shell look good, however many spills there were.That was their corporate attitude, and my program was required to reflect it… I had no say in the matter. It does not surprise me that Saro-Wiwa’s life was regarded primarily as a business matter for Shell. That seems to be the nature of multinational corporations, and Saro-Wiwa paid with his life for fighting against one of the largest of them.