Gone, far too soon.
“The president of Nigeria has joined politicians, environmental activists and others to pay tribute to Ken Wiwa, the Ogoni leader and critic of Shell and other western oil companies in the Niger delta, who has died from a stroke in London.” Read the full story in The Guardian.
“Educated in Nigeria and Britain, Mr. Wiwa moved to Canada in 1999 and became a writer-in-residence at Massey College in the University of Toronto. He wrote features and columns for The Globe and Mail and was twice nominated for a National Newspaper Award….He wrote for many other international media, including The Guardian and the New York Times, and produced and narrated radio and television documentaries for CBC and BBC.
“Mr. Wiwa returned to Nigeria in 2005. Believing that he could help Nigeria more effectively by working within the government, he served as a special assistant to three Nigerian presidents, including Goodluck Jonathan, with whom he worked closely. He worked as a special assistant on issues such as conflict resolution, reconciliation and international relations. Much of his work focused on the Niger Delta, still plagued by the environmental disasters that his father had tried to prevent.” Read the full story in The Globe and Mail.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the Kiobel v. Shell case, limiting the courts’ ability to hear claims of human rights abuses committed abroad.
Lawrence Hurley of Reuters calls the disappointing decision, “a major victory for multinational companies,” adding that “the ruling is a major win for multinationals such as Royal Dutch that do business in the developing world and become embroiled in local political controversies.
“Those companies, which are still subject to lawsuits in foreign courts, fear U.S. courts because of the possibility of large damage awards,” Hurley writes. He goes on to note that, “The ruling is likely to affect other cases, including those involving similar claims against Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto Plc over its conduct in Papua New Guinea; Exxon Mobil Corp over its activity in Indonesia; and Daimler AG concerning alleged abuses in Argentina. The companies have all vigorously contested the claims.”
In its press release, the organization writes, “Today in its decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the Supreme Court gutted the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a law that has been on the books for more than 200 years and for the last 30 years has been a critical avenue to hold serious human rights violators accountable. In a decision that will undermine the United States’ status as a leader on human rights, the Justices unanimously decided that the victims of the gross human rights violations alleged in this case were not entitled to relief under the ATS. Furthermore, a majority of the Court ruled more broadly that the ATS does not apply to human rights violations committed in other countries.
Last week’s Dutch court ruling in the case brought by four Nigerian farmers against Shell for oil pollution damage is being reported as a “victory” for both the plaintiffs and for Shell.
So, who really won? It depends how you look at things. Live Wire, Amnesty International’s blog, has a an excellent summary of the case and the ongoing challenges facing those who want Shell to clean up its mess in the Niger Delta. The court ruled in favor of one plaintiff and that is significant. Shell will have to pay compensation to the farmer and, according to Amnesty International, “This week’s ruling means Shell can no longer point to sabotage as if the company has no responsibility for this problem, and it should have wider ramifications for Shell’s Nigeria operations.”
A team of assessors from the U.K. has just returned from a fact-finding mission to the Niger Delta and has slammed Shell for failing to clean-up pollution resulting from two 2008 spills. “Next to nothing has happened and where work has commenced it has been totally amateurish,” said said Martyn Day of the London-based law firm Leigh Day, speaking to John Vidal, environment editor at The Guardian.
You can read the article, Shell attacked over four-year delay in Niger Delta oil spill clean-up, for more details on Shell’s failure to get serious about cleaning up the extensive damage from the spills.
This is merely the latest in a series of damning critiques of Shell’s failure to clean up its pollution. Shell initially denied responsibility for the spills and when the company did accept responsibility it “dramatically underestimated the quantities” of oil spilled.
I’m finally back at my desk, catching up with news and writing.
Oil watchdog Platform has published a briefing, Dirty Work, revealing Shell’s financial links to human rights abusers in Nigeria.The company spends hundreds of millions of dollars on security forces to protect its workers while the suffering of local communities continues unabated.
This briefing arrives a year after the publication of a U.N. report that slammed multinational oil companies, Shell in particular, for a half century of pollution in the Niger Delta. A recent Reuters article, A year on, Nigeria’s oil still poisons Ogoniland, describes the situation today:
Democracy Now! May 26, 2009 report on opening of trial in NY federal court over Shell’s role in 1995 execution of human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa
Marco Simons, Legal Director at Earth Rights International, has recently written an article, US government sides with Shell over victims of crimes against humanity, which I’m posting below in its entirety.
Shell had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule the company can’t be sued by Nigerians seeking damages for torture and murders committed by the national government in the early 1990s. With a U.S. government brief that supports Shell’s position, where does this leave Nigerians? The U.S. brief suggests that the Nigerians should seek redress in their own courts, as the human rights abuses occurred in Nigeria and not the U.S. This is a chilling message.
Several damning articles have been been published in The Guardian (U.K.) over the past few days.
Sunday’s headline, Shell oil paid Nigerian military to put down protests, court documents show, gets right to the point.
John Vidal, Environment Editor, writes: “Shell has never denied that its oil operations have polluted large areas of the Niger Delta – land and air. But it had resisted charges of complicity in human rights abuses.
“Court documents now reveal that in the 1990s Shell routinely worked with Nigeria‘s military and mobile police to suppress resistance to its oil activities, often from activists in Ogoniland, in the delta region.
Justice is slow in coming in the Niger Delta — it has been 15 years since Ken Saro-Wiwa’s murder — but in the last few months there are signs of change in the air. On Wednesday, Shell formally accepted responsibility for two major oil spills in the Niger Delta (in 2008 and 2009):
In the first case of its kind, a British high court sitting in London has ordered oil major, Royal Dutch Shell to pay compensation of potentially more than £250m ($410m) to the Bodo community of Rivers State, after the Anglo-Dutch oil group admitted liability for two spills aroun the community, following a class-action lawsuit brought in England by the Niger Delta community. (from Nigerian publication, The Leadership)
We reached the edge of the oil spill near the Nigerian village of Otuegwe after a long hike through cassava plantations. Ahead of us lay swamp. We waded into the warm tropical water and began swimming, cameras and notebooks held above our heads. We could smell the oil long before we saw it – the stench of garage forecourts and rotting vegetation hanging thickly in the air.
The farther we travelled, the more nauseous it became. Soon we were swimming in pools of light Nigerian crude, the best-quality oil in the world. One of the many hundreds of 40-year-old pipelines that crisscross the Niger delta had corroded and spewed oil for several months.
Forest and farmland were now covered in a sheen of greasy oil. Drinking wells were polluted and people were distraught. No one knew how much oil had leaked. “We lost our nets, huts and fishing pots,” said Chief Promise, village leader of Otuegwe and our guide. “This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest. We told Shell of the spill within days, but they did nothing for six months.”
That was the Niger delta a few years ago, where, according to Nigerian academics, writers and environment groups, oil companies have acted with such impunity and recklessness that much of the region has been devastated by leaks.
In fact, more oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP‘s Deepwater Horizon rig last month.