Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Shell 'played role in activist executions'

Royal Dutch Shell is due in court on Wednesday this week to face charges of being complicit in the execution of Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa 14 years ago.
The Anglo-Dutch petrochemicals giant will be accused of asking Nigeria's military dictatorship to silence Mr Saro-Wiwa and other activists campaigning against ecological damage allegedly brought about by oil extraction.
Mr Saro-Wiwa and eight other campaigners were executed by hanging in November 1995 after being found guilty of what were widely seen as trumped up murder charges.
If found liable, Shell would be forced to pay damages that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.
"While Shell didn't tighten the noose or pull the trigger, they played a critical supporting role for which they must be held accountable," said Jen Nessel from the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the organisations involved in the trial, which opens in New York on Wednesday.
"May 27th will see Ken Saro Wiwa's prophesy fulfilled that Shell would one day be on trial for what it did to the Ogoni people."
The plaintiffs in Wiwa v Shell, a consolidation of several long-running cases, will also argue that the company is guilty of crimes against humanity, torture and illegal detainment.
Royal Dutch Shell vigorously denies all the allegations, which are being brought by relatives of Mr Saro-Wiwa and other victims of Nigeria's military dictatorship.
Mr Saro-Wiwa co-founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, established in 1990 to fight against alleged exploitation of the inhabitants of Nigeria's oil-rich Ogoni region by oil multinationals. Shell has since stopped working there, but still has large operations elsewhere in south-eastern Nigeria.
Mr Saro-Wiwa's vociferous campaigning brought a greater international awareness of environmental damage said to be caused by oil extraction, especially details of repeated oil spills and the practice of gas-flaring.
"Shell refuses to apologise for its role in the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa," said Ben Amunwa, of Platform, a British pressure group involved in the case.
"Worse still, Shell continue to pollute and flare gas with impunity in the Niger Delta, poisoning land and aggravating locals.
"The legitimate grievances of Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni remain unaddressed, Shell's ongoing environmental abuses fan the flames of conflict between oil companies and host communities."
Nigeria's military has recently launched its heaviest crackdown yet on militants in the Niger Delta, bombing their creek-side camps and reportedly killing key rebel leaders.
Amnesty International says there are reports that "hundreds" of civilians have died during the operation, although Nigeria's government denies this.
"The allegations made in the complaints against Royal Dutch Shell concerning the 1995 executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight fellow Ogonis are false and without merit," a Shell spokesman said.
"Shell in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence against them or their fellow Ogonis. We believe that the evidence will show clearly that Shell was not responsible for these tragic events."
The trial could result in the first successful prosecution brought under the Alien Torts Statute, which gives non-US citizens the right to file suits in US courts for international human rights violations.
The trial comes after a 12-year legal battle in which Shell has made repeated efforts to have the case thrown out of court in the US.

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