Shell settles Nigeria killings suit http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/06/200968214238518957.html Shell was accused of colluding with Nigeria's government to silence rights activists
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to settle a lawsuit accusing the firm of complicity in the executions of human rights activists in Nigeria for $15.5m, the families of those killed have said.
The settlement agreement came on Monday as the more than decade-long dispute was due to go to trial in a district court in New York.
The lawsuit accused Shell of human rights abuses, including violations in relation to the hangings in 1995 of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a well known rights activist, and eight other protesters by Nigeria's then-military government.
Shell, which still operates in Nigeria, said it agreed to settle the lawsuit in the hope of aiding the "process of reconciliation" but acknowledged no wrongdoing in the case.
"This gesture also acknowledges that, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered,'' Malcolm Brinded, Shell's executive director for exploration and production, said in a statement on Monday.Collusion claims
The lawsuit, filed in a US district court in New York, alleged that Shell colluded with the then-government to silence environmental and human rights activists in the country's oil rich Niger Delta region.
The primary complaint focused on the company's Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.It alleged that in the 1990s Shell officials helped furnish Nigerian police with weapons, participated in security sweeps of the area and asked government troops to shoot villagers protesting against the construction of a
pipeline that later leaked oil.It also said Shell helped the government capture and hang Saro-Wiwa and other activists on November 10, 1995.
Saro-Wiwa, leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, led rallies against Shell, which he blamed for oil spills and gas fires in the region.
On Monday, his son, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr, said that he felt his father "would be happy" with the decision despite no declaration of wrongdoing on Shell's part.
"The fact that they would have to settle is a victory for us," he said.Local initiatives
The $15.5m will support initiatives in education, skills development, agriculture, small enterprise development and adult literacy, Shell said. It will be governed by trustees who will be independent of the plaintiffs and defendants and responsible for delivering the projects.
"Shell should treat us as civilised human beings and not those to be exploited because of our oil"
Lawyers hailed the agreement as a rare and significant success in the field of international human rights and as a precedent for holding Shell and other oil giants responsible for activities in countries with repressive governments.
"We hope that this settlement provides another building block in the efforts to forge a legal system that holds violators accountable wherever they may be and prevents future violations," lawyers for the plaintiffs said in a joint statement.
But Bariara Kpalap, a spokesman for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, said that Shell still had to address "environmental pollution, neglect and degradation in Ogoniland".
"Shell has inflicted much sufferings on the Ogoni people through its operations. As farmers and fishermen we have been deprived of our means of livelihood through the pollution of our lands," Kpalap said.
"For a lasting peace in the Ogoniland, Shell has to change its attitude towards the people. Shell should treat us as civilised human beings and not those to be exploited because of our oil."Corporate accountability
Jenny Green, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, who helped file the lawsuit in 1996, said that the agreement would send a message to Shell and other multinationals that operate in developing countries.
"You can't commit human rights violations as a part of doing business," she said.
"A corporation can't act with impunity. And we think there is accountability in this settlement."
The settlement is not the end of Shell's legal troubles, however.
Separate challenges are being mounted in New York and the Netherlands.
Elizabeth Bast, the international programme director for Friends of the Earth US, said Shell "will be dragged from the boardroom to the courthouse, time and again, until the company addresses the injustices at the root of the Niger Delta crisis and put an end to its environmental devastation".