Well oil be damned

No sooner has the bunting been cleared away following Barack Obama’s re-election then news emerges of efforts by his administration to help Shell oil company avoid being sued in connection with human rights abuses against the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta in Nigeria.

Glen Ford, writing in Black Agenda Report, says:

In Shell’s case, 12 Nigerians charge the oil company with being an accomplice to torture, extra judicial executions and crimes against humanity. One of the plaintiffs is the widow of Dr. Barinem Kiobel, who was executed by the Nigerian government along with human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leaders of the Ogoni people in 1995.

Their homeland, the Niger Delta, had been turned into an environmental wasteland for the benefit of Shell Oil and corrupt Nigerian government officials, with the population living under martial law. Shell Oil, which profits most from the Ogoni people’s degradation and oppression, claims it is just a bystander, an innocent party – that it had nothing to do with the Nigerian government’s atrocities. But, of course, the Nigerian government’s murderous policies were designed to protect the profitability of Shell’s operations.

The case, relating to deaths and torture carried out between 1992 and 1995, has now reached the US Supreme Court. Bloomberg reports:

The Obama administration urged the court to bar claims against foreign units – and throw out the Shell case – without deciding whether U.S. companies could be sued.

Obama’s solicitor-general’s office want to prevent American corporations being sued in US courts over human rights abuses claimed to have been committed overseas. Campaigners claim that victims will never get justice in the countries where the abuse occurred because of local corruption.

Black Agenda Reports adds:

Shell Oil also argues that it cannot be sued under the Alien Tort Statue, because it is not a person. Two hundred years ago, when the law was written, nobody thought corporations were people. Later, corporations fought for and got recognition as a kind of legal person in the United States, allowing them to claim the inalienable rights of actual human beings. But now, under these circumstances, Shell Oil claims it is not a person, subject to human law, but an entity possessing corporate immunities.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was quoted earlier this month saying that a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to back Shell in an Alien Tort case would be an insult to justice. “If the Supreme Court sides with Shell, it would represent a terrible step backward for human rights.”

This report in Ogoni News suggests that while the case trundles on in America, human rights abuses are still continuing:

A recent report by Bogumil Terminski of the University of Warsaw has shown that the Ogoni suffer the worst case of oil-induced violence in the world. A situation that had cost over 4,000 lives and threatened the survival of over 1 million others. The soil, waters and air had been seriously polluted and a recent United Nations report had raised a serious alarm about the future of the Ogoni people.

All of these had happened to sustain Shell Petroleum Company’s oil revenue and put money in the pockets of Nigeria’s corrupt politicians.

Shell are also being sued across the Atlantic in the Hague over oil spills in the same Delta region.

Three years ago Shell had previously tried to head-off the damaging claims of human rights abuses by offering £9.6m compensation to 500,000 Ogoni people – the equivalent of just under twenty quid per person – with no admission of guilt. This related to human rights abuses in the 1970s and 80s.

The pay-off was coughed up on the eve of a New York trial where Shell were “accused of complicity” in the execution of Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995. In the same year as the pay-off Shell made a whopping $31 billion profit. In other words, they offered the Ogoni people less than half a percent of their annual profit.

Surely whatever the result of the Supreme Court case it is time to take a stand against this Anglo-Dutch company that continues to claim that human rights abuses have nothing to do with them, despite all the evidence linking their oil activities to killing and torture carried out by local militia.

Time to boycott Shell (if you haven’t already done)!

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

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