1 October 2012

Nigeria: U.S. Supreme Court to Review Case Against Shell

Photo: Elaine Gilligan/Friends of the Earth
Traffic scene in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

The United States Supreme Court will Monday begin a new session by re-examining a suit, alleging complicity in acts of torture, against Dutch oil giant Shell in Nigeria, states a Reuters report.

Twelve Nigerians had accused the oil giant of being an accomplice to torture, extra judicial executions and crimes against humanity in the Niger Delta.

The nine justices will decide whether to hold major companies liable for crimes committed outside the United States borders by virtue of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a law passed two centuries ago.

"ATS clearly covers those violations. There's nothing in the ATS that violates domestic and international laws," said Carey D'Avino, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.

The Supreme Court could be "afraid of some kind of backlash, what other nations will think of us," said constitutional lawyer Lisa Blatt.

The case pits a Nigerian widow against the multinational oil company. Esther Kiobel and others alleged that Shell helped the Nigerian government commit human rights violations against her husband, who was executed in 1995.

Esther Kiobel's husband, Barinem Kiobel, was arrested in 1994 along with Ken Saro-Wiwa and others.

Kiobel was found guilty of murder by a tribunal in a trial that the United States State Department said lacked due process. He was hanged in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, in 1995.

Relying on a 200-year-old United States law called the Alien Tort Statute, Esther, who had received asylum in the United States, filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York alleging among other things that Shell cooperated with the Nigerian military, resulting in crimes against humanity.

The Supreme Court in March this year decided to hear arguments a second time in a dispute between oil giant and some Nigerian victims of torture.

The court heard a first round of arguments by attorneys in March but the nine justices announced they would hear the matter again at their next session before ruling on the case.

Meanwhile, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) operated Joint venture has shut the 28-inch Bomu-Bonny trunkline in Rivers State, deferring 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day, after discovering a fire on the pipeline in the early morning of Sunday.

A burning vessel, believed to be the result of theft of crude oil from the line, was sighted near the incident site, close to Okololunch community in Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State, which is under the company's Eastern Niger Delta operation.

Shell's Corporate Media Relations Manager, Mr. Tony Okonedo said in a statement last night that production of 150,000 barrels of oil per day was affected in the shutdown of the pipeline, which conveys crude oil to Bonny Export Terminal for shipment.

Shell's Vice President for Health, Safety, Environment and Corporate Affairs in Sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Tony Attah said helicopter overfly showed the vessel engulfed in raging flames and thick smoke.

"This incident clearly demonstrates the scale of the oil theft problem which, alongside the hundreds of illegal refineries in the Delta, is having such a profound effect on the people, communities and the environment.

"Until these activities are brought to a halt there will be no improvement in the environmental situation," he said.

Attah further stated that the oil company was mobilising to fight the fire, investigate the cause and carry out repairs.

According to the company, sabotage and crude oil theft were blamed for the 11,806 barrels spilled from SPDC facilities in 118 incidents last year. This translated to an average of one spill every three days, accounting for 77 per cent of the total spilled volume during the period.

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