BBC News – 2009-06-08 22:56:03
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LONDON (June 8, 2009) — Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle a lawsuit which accused the oil firm of complicity in rights abuses in Nigeria. The case, due for trial in the US next week, was brought by relatives of a group of anti-Shell activists executed in 1995 by Nigeria’s military rulers.
The families say Shell helped the government to punish the campaigners. But the company insists it did nothing wrong and said the payment was part of a “process of reconciliation”.
Shell official Malcolm Brinded said: “This gesture also acknowledges that, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered.”
Among those executed was Ken Saro-Wiwa, a prominent writer. He and other activists had formed a group in 1990 aimed at showing the world the environmental damage they said Shell’s drilling was causing in the Niger Delta.But the campaigners were jailed on charges of ordering the 1994 murder of four local leaders.
After a trial, Mr Saro-Wiwa and eight others were hanged. Their relatives have pursued Shell through the courts ever since.
Ken Saro-Wiwa’s 40-year-old son, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr, said his father would have been happy with the result. He told the Associated Press that Shell’s settlement represented a “victory for us”.
Paul Hoffman, one of the lawyers for the Nigerian families, also expressed his satisfaction with the outcome. “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,” he said. “Had we tried the case and won, the plaintiffs were still looking at years of appeals,” he said.
The lawyers said a large chunk of the money would be put into a trust to benefit the people of Ogoniland — the area Mr Saro-Wiwa was seeking to protect.
The case was first filed in the US in 1996 under a 200-year-old statute allowing people to bring rights abuse cases in US courts even when the alleged crimes took place outside the US.
The lawsuit alleged that Shell officials helped to supply Nigerian police with weapons during the 1990s. It claimed that Shell participated in security sweeps in parts of Ogoniland and hired government troops that shot at villagers who protested against a pipeline. And the papers also alleged that Shell helped the government capture and hang Mr Saro-Wiwa and several of his colleagues.
“Shell has always maintained the allegations were false,” said Mr Brinded. “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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