Page last updated at 09:43 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 10:43 UK

Shell settles Nigeria deaths case

Ken Saro-Wiwa
The execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa sparked a global outcry

Royal Dutch Shell has agreed a $15.5m (£9.7m) out-of-court settlement in a case accusing it of complicity in human rights abuses in Nigeria.

It was brought by relatives of nine anti-oil campaigners, including author Ken Saro-Wiwa, who were hanged in 1995 by Nigeria's then military rulers.

The oil giant strongly denies any wrongdoing and says the payment is part of a "process of reconciliation".

The case, initiated 13 years ago, had been due for trial in the US next week.

It was brought under a 1789 federal law which allows US courts to hear human rights cases brought by foreign nationals over actions that take place abroad.

The case alleged that Shell was complicit in murder, torture and other abuses by Nigeria's former military government against campaigners in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight others were members of the Ogoni ethnic group from the Niger Delta. They had been campaigning for the rights of the local people and protesting at pollution caused by the oil industry.

Ken Saro-Wiwa Junior described his relief, and lawyer Judith Chomsky said she was thrilled

They were executed after being convicted by a military tribunal over the 1994 murder of four local leaders.

The activists' deaths sparked a storm of international protest.


Ken Wiwa, 40, son of Ken Saro-Wiwa, said his father would have been happy with the result.

He told the Associated Press that Shell's settlement represented a "victory for us".

Judith Chomsky, of the US-based Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and one of the lawyers who initiated the lawsuit, said she was "thrilled" with the verdict.

She said it sent a message that "corporations, like individuals, must abide by internationally recognised human rights standards".

1958 Oil struck in Ogoniland
1990 Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (Mosop) formed; Ken Saro-Wiwa is president
1993 300,000 Ogonis protest at neglect by government and Shell
1993 Shell pull out of Ogoniland after employee is beaten
1994 Conflicts flare between local communities, military sent to restore order. Mosop say conflicts being fuelled by government as a 'divide and rule' tactic.
1994 Four community leaders killed by mob of youths. Mosop leaders, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, arrested
1995 Mr Saro-Wiwa and eight others tried and executed; widespread condemnation of government
2003-2008 International attention switches to armed conflict started by other Delta communities
2008 Government announces Shell will be removed as an operator in Ogoniland.

Paul Hoffman, a lawyer for the Nigerian families, also expressed his satisfaction.

"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.

Mr Hoffman said $5m would go into a trust to benefit the people of Ogoniland - the area Ken Saro-Wiwa was seeking to protect. The rest would go to the plaintiffs and to pay the costs of litigation.

Shell has not accepted any liability over the allegations against it.

Speaking after the settlement was announced, Shell official Malcolm Brinded said it "acknowledges that, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered."

Weapons allegations

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.

It was also alleged that Shell helped the government capture and hang Ken 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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