Wiwa et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum et al


Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Wiwa v. Anderson, and Wiwa v. Shell Petroleum Development Company are three lawsuits filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel from EarthRight International on behalf of relatives of murdered activists who were fighting for human rights and environmental justice in Nigeria. The lawsuits are brought against the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Shell Transport and Trading Company (Royal Dutch/Shell); the head of its Nigerian operation, Brian Anderson; and the Nigerian subsidiary itself, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

The defendants are charged with complicity in human rights abuses against the Ogoni people in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrest, wrongful death, assault and battery, and infliction of emotional distress. The cases were brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA). The case against Royal Dutch/Shell also alleges that the corporation violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Royal Dutch/Shell began using land in the Ogoni area of Nigeria for oil production in 1958. Pollution resulting from the oil production has contaminated the local water supply and agricultural land upon which the region’s economy is based. Also, Royal Dutch/Shell for decades worked with the Nigerian military regime to suppress any and all demonstrations that were carried out in opposition to the oil company’s activities. The oil company and its Nigerian subsidiary provided monetary and logistical support to the Nigerian police and bribed witnesses to produce false testimonies.

In 1995, the company and its subsidiary colluded with the Nigerian government to bring about the arrest and execution of the Ogoni 9. The Ogoni 9 was a group of activists that were hanged on November 10, 1995 after a “trial” before a special military tribunal based on fabricated charges. One of the nine, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was an internationally renowned writer and activist and was the leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He is represented in this case by Ken Wiwa, Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s son and the executor of his estate. Mr. Saro-Wiwa was outspoken in condemning Shell for polluting and destroying the Ogoni ecosystem, and he led the struggle for the autonomy of the Ogoni people and for an equitable distribution of Nigeria’s oil riches.

Other MOSOP leaders include John Kpuinen, the Deputy President of MOSOP’s youth wing, the National Youth Council of Ogoni People (NYCOP), and Dr. Barinem Kiobel, the Honorable Commissioner of the Ministry of Commerce and Tourism and member of the Rivers State Executive Council. These MOSOP activists, along with six others, including Saturday Doobee, Felix Nuate, and Daniel Gbokoo, were known as the Ogoni 9. Human rights groups and political leaders around the world condemned both the executions and the lack of due process that was accorded to the victims in connection with the so-called trial.

Other incidents of torture and detention include that of Owens Wiwa, who was detained for more than a year under false charges to prevent him from protesting. During his detention he was beaten repeatedly. Michael Vizor, then a NYCOP vice-president, was beaten by police in front of his children when he would not confess to a false charge. He also had 400,000 (Naira) in cash and documents stolen from his house during his arrest. He was further tortured and denied medical assistance during his wrongful detention. Another plaintiff, Uebari N-nah, was shot and killed in October 1993 near a Shell flow station at Korokoro, Rivers State, Nigeria.

Other plaintiffs were attacked by troops summoned by Royal Dutch/Shell during a peaceful demonstration against Shell and the Nigerian military regime for bulldozing farmland in Bira Gokana for a pipeline contracted by Willbros West Africa, Inc. Karalolo Kogbara was shot by Nigerian troops while she was speaking out against the bulldozing of her crops. Plaintiff Michael Tema Vizor was arrested, beaten and detained for four days without charge for participating in the same protest.