Shell faces murder charges
By Karen McGregor
New York, Sept. 19— Allegations that the oil multinational
Shell aided and abetted the torture and murder of Nigerian activists
– including the executed writer Ken Saro-Wiwa (pictured right)–
will be tested by a full jury trial in New York, after the oil
company’s attempts to have the case thrown out were rejected.
Shell will also stand accused of orchestrating a series of
raids by the Nigerian military on villages in the Ogoni region
that left more than 1,000 people dead and 20,000 homeless.
Saro-Wiwa and eight others were arrested in 1994 after a fatal
attack on former leaders of their Movement for the Survival
of Ogoni People (Mosop). In a case that shocked the world, and
was widely reported to be a legal farce, they were found guilty
of the murders by military tribunal and executed in November
Now the case of the “Ogoni Nine,” as they became known, has
come back to haunt the Dutch and British owners of Shell Nigeria.
The lawsuit was lodged by the Center for Constitutional Rights
in New York on behalf of three Nigerian emigrés to the US, including
Saro-Wiwa’s brother Dr. Owens Wiwa, and a woman identified as
“Jane Doe” to protect her safety.
Their claims could run to tens of millions of dollars in damages
against the oil company. “We believe Shell facilitated Saro-Wiwa’s
execution,” said Jenny Green, of the Center for Constitutional
Rights, after the judgment. “We believe there is a basis in
US law to hold Shell accountable.”
Dr. Owens Wiwa and the other plaintiffs claim to have suffered
abuse or to be related to victims of a state terror campaign
against Ogonis who fought oil exploration in Nigeria’s Rivers
State. They specifically allege that Shell Nigeria:
*Lent boats to Nigerian troops in September 1993 which were
used to attack Ogoni villages. On the days of the attacks, a
helicopter chartered by Shell surveilled three villages where
military operations led to the massacre of more than 1,000 villagers.
*Made cash payments to military police who shot a 74-year-old
man and two youths in the presence of Shell employees.
*Specifically requested the assistance of Nigeria’s notorious
“kill-and-go” mobile police force to quell protests. In late
1990 these police carried out massive “scorched earth” operations,
culminating in the massacre of 80 villagers and the destruction
of hundreds of homes.
*Called in government troops to fire on Biara villagers who
were peacefully protesting at the destruction of their homes
to build the Rumuekpe-Bomu oil pipeline
*Participated in the fabrication of murder charges and the
bribery of witnesses to give false testimony against Saro-Wiwa,
the youth leader John Kpuinen, and other protest leaders, who
were repeatedly detained and tortured by the government and
later convicted of murder and hanged.
*Coercively appropriated land for oil development without
adequate compensation, and proceeded to seriously pollute air
and water in Ogoniland.
They also contend that they and family members were imprisoned,
tortured and killed by the Nigerian government at the instigation
of the oil company, in reprisal for their opposition to oil
exploration, and were not afforded the legal protection required
by international law.
“Jane Doe” claims to have been beaten and shot by the Nigerian
military in a raid on her village. A further contention is that
Saro-Wiwa’s family – including his 74-year-old mother — were
beaten by Nigerian officials while attending his trial.
Shell was “disappointed” that its appeal had been rejected
and said it was “still considering” in detail what its response
would be if the case were to come to trial.
For years the Ogoni people, who live in the small but highly
populated and formerly fertile Rivers State in Nigeria, waged
an activists’ war against a dictatorial state and multinational
oil companies they accused of destroying their environment.
Shell Nigeria first began its operations in 1958, when Nigeria
was still a British colony. The country has vast oil reserves
and oil accounts for some 90 percent of export earnings and
80 percent of state revenue.
The Ogonis, a minority ethnic group with little political clout,
had no say then (or after independence in 1960) over oil activities
that spawned more than 100 wells and, it is estimated, more
than 3,000 oil spills.
The Ogonis’ campaign began in the early 1990s as a peaceful
protest movement but became a dirty struggle, literally and
figuratively, that saw an increasingly militant Mosop – which
protested against poverty and environmental damage, and demanded
autonomy for the Ogoni with a share in oil revenues – violently
repressed by the dictatorial Nigerian military government. Oil
producers saw Mosop as bad for business, while the government
saw it as a secessionist and political threat and focused on
Ogoni leaders for repression.
The lawsuit was originally filed in a Manhattan federal court
in 1996 under laws that allow action in the US against firms
accused of human rights abuses anywhere in the world. It alleges
rights violations involving the Dutch-owned Royal Dutch Petroleum
Co. and its sister company, Shell Transport and Trading Company
Plc., based in Britain.
They jointly control the multinational Royal Dutch-Shell Group,
a network of affiliated but independent oil and gas firms, one
of which is Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria (Shell
Nigeria) – the country’s biggest oil producer.
Royal Dutch, which wants the case heard in England, said that
the Nigerians’ allegations were “false and unsubstantiated.”
The ruling, it added, “is about where the case should be brought,
if it is brought at all, and not about the merits of the allegations.”
The US Circuit Court of Appeals, however, considered the case
sufficiently valid to overrule a 1998 lower court judge, who
dismissed it on jurisdictional grounds. That dismissal itself
overruled an earlier court finding that jurisdiction did exist.
The appeals court judge Pierre Leval said the lower court “failed
to give weight” to three factors that favored US jurisdiction
for the trial.
First, some of the plaintiffs now live in the US and chose
the forum. Second, the lower court had ignored interests of
the US in providing a forum for human rights claims. And finally,
“the factors that led the district court to dismiss in favor
of a British forum were not compelling.”
Judge Leval also said that “new formulations” of the Torture
Victims’ Protection Act of 1991 “convey the message” that torture
committed under the law of a foreign nation in violation of
international law are also violations of US domestic law. The
district court, he also argued, failed to consider financial
hardship the plaintiffs would suffer if the case was moved to
Britain, and sent it back to district court for further argument.
Environmental groups such as Earthlife Africa accused oil companies
of causing serious damage without consulting the Ogonis, and
there were allegations that oil companies were behind the terror
campaign. But the world largely ignored the events that led
up to the execution of the Ogonis and Saro-Wiwa, whom Amnesty
declared a prisoner of conscience.
The main allegations
The plaintiffs allege that:
1: They (and their next of kin) were imprisoned, tortured,
and killed by the Nigerian government at the instigation of
Shell Nigeria, in reprisal for their political opposition to
the Shell’s oil exploration.
2: Shell Nigeria coercively appropriated land for oil development
without adequate compensation, and caused substantial pollution
of the air and water in the homeland of the Ogoni people.
3: Shell Nigeria recruited the Nigerian police and military
to attack local villages and suppress the organized opposition
to its development activity.
4: Ken Saro-Wiwa and John Kpuinen (leaders of the Ogoni opposition
group Mosop) were repeatedly arrested, detained and tortured
by the Nigerian government because of their roles in the protest
5: In 1995, Saro-Wiwa and Kpuinen were hanged, along with other
Ogoni leaders, after being convicted of murder by a special
military tribunal. They were allegedly convicted on fabricated
evidence solely to silence political criticism and were not
afforded the legal protections required by international law.
6: The complaint further alleges that plaintiff Owens Wiwa
(Saro-Wiwa’s brother) was illegally detained by Nigerian authorities,
that plaintiff Jane Doe was beaten and shot by the Nigerian
military in a raid upon her village, and that Saro-Wiwa’s family
– including Ken Saro-Wiwa’s 74-year-old mother – were beaten
by Nigerian officials while attending his trial.
7: According to the complaint, while these abuses were carried
out by the Nigerian government and military, they were instigated,
orchestrated, planned, and facilitated by Shell Nigeria under
the direction of the defendants.
8: The Royal Dutch/Shell Group allegedly provided money, weapons,
and logistical support to the Nigerian military, including the
vehicles and ammunition used in the raids on the villages, procured
at least some of these attacks, participated in the fabrication
of murder charges against Saro-Wiwa and Kpuinen, and bribed
witnesses to give false testimony against them.
Source: The Independent
Prague flooded with activists arriving to
protest IMF/World Bank
Prague, Czech Republic, Sept. 16— Border crossings into
the Czech Republic were jammed yesterday as thousands of anti-globalization
protesters began streaming into the country for next week’s
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank annual meeting.
Motorists on the Austrian, German, Polish and Slovak borders
were delayed for up to eight hours as the police checked almost
every vehicle for weapons, ammunition and explosives, fearing
that they would be used in riots during the September 19 to
Long delays were also reported at Prague airport and on the
The police and pressure groups reported that scores of people
had been turned back at the border, mostly to Germany.
As the biggest security operation in the Czech Republic’s
history got under way, the police stressed that their main aim
was not to crush the demonstrations or the scheduled “counter
“Our prime concern is to ensure the smooth-running of the
conference from start to finish,” the police president, Jiri
He said that after close cooperation with officers from the
FBI and Scotland Yard, the Czech police had lists of “several
hundred people whose entry into the Czech Republic is undesirable
at the time of the meeting,” including protesters who took part
in the May Day riots in London.
About 23,000 delegates and 15,000 to 25,000 protesters are
expected to attend the meeting.
There have been 5,000 bookings over the internet for a “tent
city” set up in a former communist concrete monolith, the Strahov
This is the first such event to be held in a country of the
former Soviet bloc, and the authorities are nervous.
Eleven thousand police officers-- more than a quarter of the
country’s entire force-- backed up by 1,600 soldiers will be
present in Prague. About 100 independent observers will monitor
the actions of the police.
“We’ve never had to deal with anything like this before,”
the police spokeswoman, Ivana Zelenakova, said. “The water cannons
have not been used since the demonstrations in the run-up to
the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of 1989, so we’re having to dust them
Teargas equipment has been borrowed from Germany.
“The British police persuaded us to use mounted police because
they create a distinct psychological advantage by towering above
protesters,” said Ms. Zelenakova.
Unlike the protests at the annual Spring meetings of the Bank
and IMF in April, the Prague demonstrations are expected to
be more organized and will be supported by similar actions in
many capitals of the world as the voices against corporate globalization
“Our aim is to amplify, not to speak for, but to amplify the
voices of the people of global south in places where they are
not able to be present, as in Prague,’’ says Njoki Njoroge Njehu
director of the 50 Years is Enough Campaign. “Despite reports
to the contrary, the global coalition against globalization
is getting stronger.’’
The 50 Years is Enough Campaign, a US-based network for economic
justice is part of the global movement that is organizing the
Sep. 26 protests during the World Bank and IMF annual meetings.
The Sep. 19-28 meetings are being held amid growing calls from
civil society organizations, trade unions and student movements
for a reform of the operations of the Bretton Woods institutions
and a suspension of their policies in developing countries.
The international non-governmental groups behind the 50 Years
is Enough Campaign are pushing seven demands on the Bank and
IMF. These are:
*the cancellation of all debts owed them by poor nations
*an immediate halt to the imposition of economic austerity
measures and the abandonment of all versions of the Highly Indebted
Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative offering relief in exchange
for policy reforms
*the acceptance of responsibility for the disastrous impact
of the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) and other macro-
economic reforms on the economy of poor countries
*the payment of reparations to people relocated and harmed
by large projects that the IMF and World Bank have funded, such
*that the World Bank cease giving advice through the International
Finance Corporation to advance the goals associated with corporate
globalization, advice such as privatization
*that Bank and IMF officials complicit in abetting corruption
be prosecuted and that the institutions involved provide compensation
for resources stolen or damaged
*that the future existence, structure and policies of international
financial institutions be determined through a democratic and
Thea Lee of AFL-CIO, a confederation of US labor unions, says
because there is a connection between the struggles of workers
in developing countries living under SAPs and workers in industrialized
nations, AFL-CIO will join the Sep. 26 activities.
“We cannot win at home if we cannot stand for worker’s rights
around the world,’’ says Lee.
Source: Kate Connolly (Reuters) and Gumisai Mutume (IPS)