Human Rights | 09.06.2009
European oil giant Shell settles lawsuit over killing of Nigerian activists
Europe's largest oil company agreed on Monday to a $15.5 million payout to settle a lawsuit over alleged complicity in human rights abuses under the former military regime in Nigeria during the 1990s.
The case, initiated 13 years ago, had been due for trial in the US next week.
The victims included the Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who led a non-violent protest against environmental destruction and abuses against the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta. He was hanged in 1995 along with other activists after standing trial in a military court. The activists' deaths triggered international condemnation and outrage.
Though willing to pay up, Shell was quick to reject the claims concerning the 1995 execution of six anti-Shell activists by the African country's military regime.
"Shell has always maintained the allegations were false," Malcolm Brinded, executive director for exploration and production, said in a statement. "This gesture also acknowledges that, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered."
Marco Simons, one of the lawyers representing the victims' families, said the agreement was a "very significant milestone."
"For Shell globally that may not be significant, but if you are talking about the operating cost for that project, that is a substantial sum," Simons said.
The money will go to the plaintiffs, a trust to benefit the Ogoni, and will also be used to cover the costs of litigation.
The case, which is considered a landmark in the human rights legal field, was repeatedly delayed in the run-up to Monday's announcement of a settlement.
Human rights lawyers hailed the agreement in New York as a precedent for holding Shell and other multinational oil giants responsible for activities in countries with repressive regimes.
The Shell case was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act, a law dating back to 1789 which is applied for multinational companies with a substantial American presence under US law across the globe.
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar