March 5, 2002, New York A U.S. Federal Court has ruled that a civil lawsuit charging multinational oil giant Shell with complicity in human rights violations will go forward. The ruling in Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. by Judge Kimba Wood held that Shell Transport and Trading Company and Royal Dutch Petroleum Company can be held liable in the U.S. for cooperating in the persecution and execution of environmental activists in Nigeria.
This ruling means that the families of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni colleagues may yet get some measure of justice for the unlawful executions and other abuses in which Shell was complicit, said Richard Herz, an attorney with EarthRights International, a non-profit group that is co-counsel in the case. More broadly, it sends a strong message to other multinational companies that they cannot participate in egregious human rights abuses with impunity.
Despite widespread international protest, noted Nigerian environmentalist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, youth leader John Kpuinen and seven other Ogoni activists were hanged by the Nigerian military government on November 10, 1995. The Ogoni Nine had opposed Shells pollution and oil development in the Niger Delta. In his last statement to the military tribunal that sentenced him to death, Saro-Wiwa said Shell is here on trial
The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come
Fulfilling this prophecy, the court refused to dismiss the lawsuit brought by surviving relatives of Saro-Wiwa and Kpuinen, which alleges that Shell played a role in the execution of the two men as well as other violations. The court also refused to dismiss similar claims against Brian Anderson, the former head of Shells Nigerian subsidiary, and claims by an additional plaintiff, who remains anonymous for her safety, alleging that she was beaten and shot while peacefully protesting bulldozing of her land by Shell.
In denying Shells motion to dismiss the case, the court found that the alleged actions of Shell and Anderson constituted participation in crimes against humanity, torture, summary execution, arbitrary detention, and other violations of international law. The court also found that Anderson could be sued under the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows victims of torture to sue the perpetrators in federal court. Finally, the ruling allows the plaintiffs claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to proceed, finding that plaintiffs allegations that Shell acted in concert with the Nigerian military would constitute racketeering. The case now proceeds to discovery, where plaintiffs will have the opportunity to interview Anderson and other Shell employees, and to review their documents.
The plaintiffs are represented by New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Washington, D.C.-based EarthRights International, Seattle University law professor Julie Shapiro, and Paul Hoffman. Judith Chomsky, a CCR Cooperating Attorney, commented today, Shell had direct involvement in human rights violations against the Ogoni people. Any company that profits from crimes against humanity should be brought to justice wherever they are. When they do business in the U.S., they should be made to answer for their actions in U.S. courts. CCR attorney Jennie Green added, Human rights law doesnt apply only to governments and individuals; multinational corporations also must be held accountable when they violate such fundamental international legal principles.
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