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A Victory for Justice

June 10, 2009

Saro-wiwa The announcement that Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed against it by the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa (pictured right), a Nigerian environmental activist who, along with eight others, was executed in 1995 by the military regime that ruled Nigeria at the time, should be applauded by anyone who cares about justice, the environment, and the right of nonprofits to advocate on behalf of the disenfranchised and dispossessed.

The bare outlines of the story are as follows (h/t LA Times).

Shell began operating in the Niger Delta, home to more than thirty million people from dozens of ethnic groups, in the late 1950s. As demand for oil, particularly the low-sulfur light crude found in the delta basin, grew over the next thirty years, the company came under attack from local activists for its low-cost production practices and disregard for the environment. The New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and whose attorneys helped initiate the lawsuit, takes it from there:

In the early 1990s, the Ogoni, led by Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, began organized, non-violent protests against Shell's practices. Shell grew increasingly concerned with the heightened international prominence of the Ogoni movement and made payments to security forces that they knew to be engaging in human rights violations against the local communities. The military government violently repressed the demonstrations, arrested Ogoni activists, and falsely accused nine Ogoni activists of murder and bribed witnessess to give fake testimony. The nine, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, were denied a fair trial and then hanged on November 10, 1995....

While the human rights and environmental justice communities have applauded the settlement, they note that it only applies to the ten individual plaintiffs and "does not resolve outstanding issues between Shell and the Ogoni people." According to the London-based Independent, at least one other trial featuring Shell as a defendent is pending in New York courts. Stay tuned.

For documentation of the legal briefs involved in the case and additional background information, check out the Web sites of CCR and EarthRights International.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Brad Smith  |   June 12, 2009 at 10:03 AM

According to the press statement: “In reaching this settlement,we were very much aware that we are not the only Ogonis who have suffered in our struggle
with Shell, which is why we insisted on creating the Kiisi Trust.” The Kiisi Trust—Kiisi means
“Progress” in the plaintiffs’ Ogoni language—will allow for initiatives in Ogoni for educational
endowments, skills development, agricultural development, women’s programs, small enterprise
support, and adult literacy."

This case was settled, as others before it, to avoid a precedent setting judgement against a U.S. corporation under the Alien Claims Tort Act http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/07/12/sebok.alien.tort.claims/

There are many roads to philanthropy.

Brad Smith

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