Shell settles Nigeria killings suit; $15.5 Million

Shell was accused of colluding with Nigeria's government to silence rights activists {Aljazeera/GALLO/GETTY}
Shell was accused of colluding with Nigeria's government to silence rights activists {Aljazeera/GALLO/GETTY}

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Veronica Kobani, whose husband was killed in the unrest between protesters and the then-military government, said: “We are still aggrieved with Shell.

“Paying compensation for the blood of these innocent people will not bring Shell back again to any part of Ogoniland for oil exploitation.” Aljazeera


June 9, 2009 12:01AMT

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle several lawsuits over the executions of protesters in Nigeria in the 1990s, lawyers for both sides said on Monday.

The settlement comes as the more than decade-long dispute was due to go to trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Paul Hoffman, a lawyer for the victims’ families, said.

The lawsuit accused Shell of human rights abuses in the Niger Delta region, including violations connected with the 1995 hangings of author and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other protesters by Nigeria’s then-military government.

“We litigated with Shell for 13 years and, at the end of the day, the plaintiffs are going to be compensated for the human rights violations they suffered,” Hoffman said.
“Had we tried the case and won, the plaintiffs were still looking at years of appeals,” he said.

Hoffman said that $5 million would go into a trust for the benefit of the Ogoni people. The rest of the money would go to lawyer’s fees and compensation for the families.

“Shell has always maintained the allegations were false,” said Malcolm Brinded, Shell’s executive director for exploration and production.


“While we were prepared to go to court to clear our name, we believe the right way forward is to focus on the future for Ogoni people, which is important for peace and stability in the region.

“This gesture also acknowledges that, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered,” Brinded said.

The original lawsuits were brought under a 1789 U.S. statute, the Alien Tort Claims Act, allowing noncitizens to file cases in U.S. courts for human rights abuses occurring overseas.

The lawsuits sought unspecified damages from Shell for backing the jailing, torturing and killing of the protesters as well as for polluting the region’s air and water.


Precedent set

Lawyers also 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 Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey in New York says that while the plaintiffs felt the settlement sent the message that multi-national companies could not act with impunity, some human rights groups were disappointed with the move as they felt a trial would have provided more public disclosure of facts in the case.

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 program 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”.

‘Admission of guilt’

Shell, which still operates in Nigeria, said it had agreed to settle the lawsuit in the hope of aiding a “process of reconciliation”, but acknowledged no wrongdoing.

But Ogon Patterson, a human rights activist in the Niger Delta and the founder of the Ijaw council for Human Rights, said that the payment by Shell showed that it was guilty of complicity in the abuses by the government.

He said: “This is blood money.

“If its hands were clean, it would have continued to claim innocence. Shell’s [move] to want this out-of-court settlement is a demonstration of their guilt.

“For its profit motives, Shell cannot then claim to be doing a humanitarian gesture,” he said.

“Shell has tried to stop what would have been coming, far ahead of time. There are several other cases in the Niger Delta where Shell need to pay restitution.

“Shell and other transnational corporations in the Niger Delta cannot continue to monitor the blood of the dispossessed people of the Niger Delta. Aljazeera