9 June 2009

Nigeria: Shell Settles Saro-Wiwa Case

Photo: Peter Roderick/Friends of the Earth
Children fetch water against a backdrop of gas flaring in Nigeria.

After more than a decade of legal battles, the Royal Dutch Shell oil company has agreed to pay an out-of-court settlement in a case in which it was accused of committing human rights abuses in collusion with Nigeria's former military government.

The case was due to go for trial next week in the United States. Instead, Shell will settle the case for U.S. $15.5 million. It will set up a $5 million trust to benefit local communities in Ogoni and make payments to the relatives of Ogoni activists who were executed or injured by the military regime of Sani Abacha in 1995. The most prominent among the activists was the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Campaigners backing the case said the people of Ogoni believe the settlement to be a victory. But Shell denied involvement in any wrongdoing and the payout was part of a "process of reconciliation".

"Shell is guilty," said Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, an American group which promotes clean energy. "Despite this victory, justice will not be served in Ogoni and throughout the Delta until the gas flares are put out..."

International environmental groups are campaigning to stop oil companies from carrying out gas flaring, a process in which emissions are burnt off to release pressure in oil pipelines and other facilities.

The international program director for Friends of the Earth U.S., Elizabeth Bast, said in a statement that "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."

She added: "Communities, human rights lawyers and activists will continue to demand justice with the same determination and hope shown by Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people."

Explaining Shell's decision to settle, its executive director for exploration and production, Malcolm Brinded, said: "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."

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