Shell in court over alleged role in
Family of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, hanged by his country's rulers in 1995, take oil giant to court in New York
• Nick Mathiason
• The Observer, Sunday 5 April 2009
Ken Saro-Wiwa swore that one day Shell, the oil giant, would answer for his death in a court of law. Next month, 14 years after his execution, the Nigerian environmental activist's dying wish is to be fulfilled.
The Anglo-Dutch company, if found liable, could be forced to pay hundreds of millions of pounds in damages. No multinational has ever been found guilty of human rights abuses, although two previous cases saw major claims settled outside court.
Saro-Wiwa became famous as a campaigner on behalf of the Ogoni people, leading peaceful protests against the environmental damage caused by oil companies in the
Witnesses who were shot by military police in the Niger Delta principally to protect the building of Shell's oil pipeline will allege that Shell, by paying the police to protect its interests, was complicit in acts of violence.
Speaking to the Observer from
"After the injustice of the original crime against my father, having to watch legal arguments [by Shell] using the highest-paid lawyers in the world is sickening. You can't describe how painful that is to go through.
"Part of the reason for the original protest was the way Shell behaved. Ogoni people made their living farming and fishing, but Shell was using open waste pits and oil pipelines criss-crossed the land. These polluting activities were put on top of a delicate ecosystem. It destroyed people's ability to sustain themselves. That's the impact of Shell and, when people tried to protest, they were brutally repressed."
In a statement, Shell this weekend described the executions of the Ogoni 9 as "tragic events carried out by the Nigerian government in power at the time".
"Shell attempted to persuade that government to grant clemency; to our deep regret, that appeal - and the appeals of many others - went unheard, and we were shocked and saddened when we heard the news. 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 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."
Today the oil-producing
"We need to know the truth," said Ken Wiwa last night. "We need to have people account for their role in the executions and the displacement of the Ogoni people, many of whom feel traumatised. It will be a relief. It will enable people to face the future. That's the most important thing. Let's account for the past, so we can move forward."
Lawyers representing Saro-Wiwa's family have not sought specific damages should Shell be found liable, but legal experts say the oil giant could face fines running into hundreds of millions of pounds.
Jenny Green, a senior lawyer at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, who has played a pivotal role in ensuring the Saro-Wiwa case made it to court, said: "Mosop [the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People] was formed to stand up to multinationals and the dictatorship that acted hand-in-hand. This is a significant moment, because it says you can't act with impunity."
• guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs