Law and Disorder Radio – Rebecca Hill on Men, Mobs and Law – Wiwa et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Case Update – Hosts: Dalia Hashad, Heidi Boghosian, Michael Steven Smith & Michael Ratner – Produced by Geoff Brady

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Men, Mobs and Law by Rebecca Hill

Men, Mobs and Law is the title of Rebecca Hill’s new book that explores the complexities of protest movements, race, class and gender. Hill draws comparisons in two types of left protest campaigns, those that defend labor organizers from prosecution and the anti-lynching groups that seek to memorialize lynching victims. Hill says both groups have influenced each other throughout history and she specifically connects the narratives and stories of the NAACP’s anti-lynching work to the IWW’s labor defense campaigns.

Rebecca Hill’s treatment of these dramatic stories has been called “fresh, lively, richly detailed, and impassioned.”

Rebecca Hill:

When I first started the book it was about martyrdom and the American Left and heroic politics. I’ll take these particular cases, John Brown, Haymarket etc.

In the research I found that this other problem that there is no law enforcement and the source of terror that black activists were dealing with was extra-legal.  . . . and their anti-lynching activism that started in the 60s – and I then went back to Ida B Wells, Dubois  – 1887-1890s

Ida B Wells talking about how dangerous passion is. This is a problem in leftist activism in general. It goes to the big questions of political theory and rationale, the role of emotions, questions of what is the meaning of popular action,

I didn’t want to condemn either side, the anti-lynching movement strategy or and the socialist left defense organizing, because they both came out of experiences that informed their politics.

If you’re facing terroristic mobs, you’re going to respond with a strategy. The anarchists and socialists movement response spoke to the lynching and their response was in inadequate – “rise up in self defense.”

If you lived in the post-Reconstruction South, rising up in self defense was not realistic without legal protection.

What came out of the Haymarket movement in the 1880s was the idea that the key element of solidarity in a labor movement is when somebody is arrested, or victimized as a result of organizing, it’s the membership that can save them. Not the law. The law is a tool, but it’s not enough perhaps.

The courts are structured by the ruling class; they’re stacked against the worker who is in court. They didn’t want the court room take away from the radicalism of the movement.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn – defense expert in IWW trials and Sacco & Vanzetti case. Anarchists connected to Sacco and Vanzetti case didn’t want structure and organizing

I was very active in the Mumia Abu Jamal campaign, you see the greater successes in the popular defense organizing–it’s not based on the legal strategy, it’s when is the movement stronger. You see more victories in the thirties because the labor movement was big and the consensus was moving to the left during the New Deal

John Brown’s defense is close to the fugitive slave rescues which were anti-court.  John Brown’s notion that the courts are wrong and should answer to a higher power, not the current law of slavery. John Brown attempted to make available weapons for slaves to take up arms. See the book John Brown Mysteries.

I don’t really think of John Brown as a religious zealot, I think he really believed in popular organizing and popular activism.

Guest – Rebecca Hill, author of Men, Mobs and Law


Wiwa et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum et al – Royal Dutch Shell Case – CCR

Europe’s largest oil company, Royal Dutch Shell, faces a lawsuit in a case originally filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in November 1996. US District Judge Kimba Wood refused to throw out the case late last month, and the Shell Oil Company faces trial brought by relatives of human rights and environmental activists killed in Nigeria. The activists were protesting oil production pollution such as water contamination and agricultural destruction. 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.  Charges include summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrest, wrongful death, assault and battery, and infliction of emotional distress. The trial begins May 26 of this year.

Jennie Green, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the plaintiffs, said in a statement: “Now, the public will have the opportunity to see how Shell’s complicity with a murderous military regime was its standard operating procedure for doing business in Nigeria.”

Attorney Jennie Green:

  • The case is about the concerted attacks on people organizing in the Niger Delta against the environmental devastation and human rights violations committed by the partnership of the Nigerian military and Royal Dutch Shell.
  • The Shell Corporation based in the Hague and England.
  • We sued them for human rights violations against the leadership of the movement for the survival of the Ogoni people.
  • There was a campaign against Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leaders who were charging Shell publicly, coordinating a very effective movement against Shell.
  • 300 thousand people peacefully demonstrating against Shell
  • They were calling attention to the fact that Shell’s practices in Nigeria involve constant flaring, the flaring of gas products, lasting up to 24 hours a day.  Some of kids in the region have never known dark.
  • It’s an area based on fishing and farming – polluted water supply and land has devastated their way of life.
  • Ken Saro-Wiwa developed a very effective campaign, building international alliances, Shell and the Nigerian military went after them, using torture, imprisonment etc.
  • Ken Saro-Wiwa was a very effective writer, producer, poet and environmentalist.
  • This started in the 1990’s when the Ogoni people declared in a campaign that Shell (in the area since 1958) could no longer go on exploiting the natural resources of the Delta without some accountability to the Ogoni people.
  • As the peaceful campaign escalated, so did the pattern of repression.
  • Ken Saro-Wiwa was falsely accused of murdering 4 Ogoni leaders. A military tribunal was created that did not meet any due process standards. In 1995 the Ogoni 9 were executed, hung, including Ken Saro-Wiwa.
  • A month later Shell installed a $4 billion liquified natural gas project.
  • What we’ve charged Shell with is, complicity with these acts. They subdued protests, they bribed witnesses at the trial.
  • Shell claims to be environmentally conscious but this is a classic double standard, their practices in the west are very different from Nigeria.
  • The judge rejected Shell’s push to dismiss the international law claims, charging Shell with crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killings. Ken Saro-Wiwa did not start out thinking Shell was the enemy; they wanted better business practices that could develop and benefit the Ogoni people.
  • Shell has approached this in a way to evade all accountability and maximize impunity. They spent 4 years fighting us over whether can be tried here in New York. Where we are is . . . that they need a judge and jury to tell them that they are accountable for human rights violations.

Guest – Jennifer Green, lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the plaintiffs. Jennifer Green specializes in international human rights legal actions in U.S. courts and international bodies. She has represented plaintiffs in successful lawsuits against the Unocal corporation for forced labor in Burma, and against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, former Guatemalan Minister of Defense Hector Gramajo, Indonesian military official Sintong Panjaitan, Ethiopian police official Kelbessa Negewo, and former Haitian dictator Prosper Avril for rape and other acts of genocide and war crimes.