Today marks the day that Royal Dutch Shell will finally be tried in the US for their involvement in the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other environmental activists in 1995.
Ken Saro-Wiwa (October 10, 1941 – November 10, 1995)–Nigerian author, television producer, environmental activist–Sara-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni people, whose hometown, Ogoniland has been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s and which has suffered extreme and unremediated environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate oil waste dumping.
Initially as spokesperson, and then as President, of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and natural waters of Ogoniland by the operations of multinational oil companies, especially Shell. He was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, which he viewed as reluctant to enforce proper environmental regulations on the foreign oil companies operating in the area.
At the peak of his non-violent campaign, Saro-Wiwa was arrested, hastily tried by a special military tribunal, and hanged in 1995 by the Nigerian military government of General Sani Abacha, all on charges widely viewed as entirely politically motivated and completely unfounded.
His last words were, “Lord, take my soul but the struggle continues.”
A speech made by Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nigerian political activist, about the struggle for a homeland in the Niger Delta for the Ogoni people. Given before but around the time of 10 November 1995, during the author’s trial for incitement to murder. The text of the speech appears under the title “Ken Saro-Wiwa’s final address to the military-appointed tribunal” in Earth Island Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 1, page 25 (Winter 1995)
We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Nor imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory.
I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.
On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and those who assist them. Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni, loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected in a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of urine.
We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardized the future of our children. As we subscribe to the sub-normal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, denigrate our hospitals, fill our stomachs with hunger and elect to make ourselves the slaves of those who ascribe to higher standards, pursue the truth, and honor justice, freedom, and hard work. I predict that the scene here will be played and replayed by generations yet unborn. Some have already cast themselves in the role of villains, some are tragic victims, some still have a chance to redeem themselves. The choice is for each individual.
I predict that the denouement of the riddle of the Niger delta will soon come. The agenda is being set at this trial. Whether the peaceful ways I have favored will prevail depends on what the oppressor decides, what signals it sends out to the waiting public.
In my innocence of the false charges I face here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side. God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41: “All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor.” Come the day.
Wiwa v. Shell. Official website of the trial, posts updates, history, etc.
Letter from Saro-Wiwa’s son, Now at Last It’s Time for Shell to Atone for My Father’s Death | CommonDreams.org.
Portrait on Saro-Wiwa from Times Online, posted today: Portrait: Ken Saro-Wiwa – Times Online.
Frequently Asked Questions from Wiwa v. Shell:
Royal Dutch Shell, plc (Shell) began oil production in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria in 1958 and has a long history of working closely with the Nigerian government to quell popular opposition to its presence in the region. At the request of Shell, and with Shell’s assistance and financing, Nigerian soldiers used deadly force and massive, brutal raids against the Ogoni people throughout the early 1990s to repress a growing movement against the oil company. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), EarthRights International (ERI) and other human rights attorneys sued Shell for human rights violations against the Ogoni. The case will go to trial on May 27, 2009 in New York City.
Who are the Ogoni and why were they protesting?
Ogoni is the name of a region in the Niger Delta of southern Nigeria, as well as the name of the ethnic group that lives in that region.
For the Ogoni and the people of Nigeria, oil and oil companies have brought poverty, environmental devastation and widespread, severe human rights abuses. Currently, almost 85 percent of oil revenues accrue to 1% of the population while, according to the African Development Bank, more than 70 percent of Nigerians live on less than US$1 per day. Ogoni is home to several environmental treasures, including the third-largest mangrove forest in the world and one of the largest surviving rainforests in Nigeria. Oil drilling by Shell and other oil companies has had a devastating impact on the region’s environment. Oil spills, gas flaring and deforestation have stripped the land of its environmental resources, destroying the subsistence farming- and fishing-based economy of the Ogoni.
What is MOSOP?
The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) is a human rights group founded in 1990 that is committed to using nonviolence to stop the repression and exploitation of the Ogoni and their resources by Shell and the Nigerian government. Upon its founding, MOSOP quickly garnered wide support and in 1993, at least half the total Ogoni population publicly supported the group. Ken Saro-Wiwa, founding member and president of MOSOP, brought worldwide attention to the human rights violations committed against the Ogoni through international campaigning and his poignant writing. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize and awarded the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Prize for his environmental and human rights activism.
What happened to the plaintiffs in this case?
As the peaceful movement of the Ogoni grew, so did the Nigerian government’s and Shell’s brutal campaign against the Ogoni and MOSOP. In early 1993, Shell requested military support to build a pipeline through Ogoni. When plaintiff Karalolo Kogbara was crying over the resulting bulldozing of her crops, she was shot by Nigerian troops and lost an arm as a result. In a separate incident later that year, plaintiff Uebari N-nah was shot and killed by soldiers near a Shell flow station; the soldiers were requested by and later compensated by Shell. Plaintiff Owens Wiwa was detained repeatedly under false charges in 1994 to prevent him from protesting; he was beaten and threatened throughout his detentions. Michael Vizor, another plaintiff, was arrested for his political activities and upon his arrest his daughter was raped. When he would not confess to a false charge, he was beaten and tortured. Mr. Vizor’s son was also beaten and detained when he attempted to bring his father food.
In 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders were prevented by the military from attending a gathering; at that very gathering, four Ogoni chiefs were killed. The military governor promptly announced that Ken Saro-Wiwa caused the deaths, and he and other leaders were taken into custody. Despite the lack of any connection between MOSOP and the deaths, the military used the deaths as a pretext to conduct raids on 60 towns in Ogoni and to detain and beat several hundred men suspected of involvement with MOSOP.
A three-man tribunal was created by the Nigerian government to try the Ogoni leaders —known as the “Ogoni Nine”– for the murders of the four chiefs. The tribunal denied the Ogoni Nine access to counsel, a fair trial, and the opportunity to appeal the decision. During the course of the trial they were tortured and mistreated, as were their relatives. The Ogoni Nine were convicted and were executed by hanging on November 10, 1995. Plaintiffs in this case include family members of Ken Saro-Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Dr. Barinem Kiobel, Saturday Doobee, Daniel Gbokoo and Felix Nuate.
“The military dictatorship holds down oil-producing areas such as Ogoni by military decrees and the threat or actual use of physical violence so that Shell can wage its ecological war without hindrance… This cozy, if criminal, relationship was perceived to be rudely disrupted by the non-violent struggle of the Ogoni people under MOSOP. The allies decided to bloody the Ogoni in order to stop their example from spreading through the oil-rich Niger Delta.”
– Ken Saro-Wiwa’s closing statement at the trial of the Ogoni 9
How was Shell involved?
Shell continued its close relationship with the Nigerian military regime during the early 1990s. The oil company requested an increase in security and provided monetary and logistical support to the Nigerian police. Shell frequently called upon the Nigerian police for “security operations” that often amounted to raids and terror campaigns against the Ogoni.
In response to growing Ogoni opposition, Shell and the Nigerian government coordinated a public relations campaign to discredit the movement, falsely attributing airplane hijackings, kidnapping and other acts of violence to Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP.
Shell was involved in the development of the strategy that resulted in the unlawful execution of the Ogoni Nine. Shell told the Nigerian regime they needed to deal with Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP. Shell monitored Ken Saro-Wiwa, and closely followed the tribunal and his detention. Prior to the trial, Shell Nigeria told its parent companies that Saro-Wiwa would be convicted and told witnesses that Saro-Wiwa was never going free. Shell held meetings with the Nigerian regime to discuss the tribunal, including with the military president Sani Abacha himself. Shell’s lawyer attended the trial, which, in Nigeria, is a privilege afforded only to interested parties. Brian Anderson, the Managing Director of Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, met with Owens Wiwa, Saro-Wiwa’s brother, and offered to trade Saro-Wiwa’s freedom for an end to the protests against the company. At least two witnesses who testified that Saro-Wiwa was involved in the murders of the Ogoni elders later recanted, stating that they had been bribed with money and offers of jobs with Shell to give false testimony – in the presence of Shell’s lawyer.
One month after the executions of the Ogoni Nine, Shell signed an agreement to invest $4 billion in a liquefied natural gas project in Nigeria.
What’s the status of the case against Shell?
Beginning in 1996, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), EarthRights International (ERI), Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman and other human rights attorneys have brought a series of cases to hold Shell accountable for human rights violations in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary arrest and detention. The lawsuits are brought against Royal Dutch Shell and Brian Anderson, the head of its Nigerian operation.
The cases were brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 statute giving non-U.S. citizens the right to file suits in U.S. courts for international human rights violations, and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows individuals to seek damages in the U.S. for torture or extrajudicial killing, regardless of where the violations take place.
Shell has made many attempts to have these cases thrown out of court, which the plaintiffs have defeated. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has set a trial date of May 27, 2009. The plaintiffs eagerly await their day in court to hold the defendants accountable for their injuries and the deaths of their loved ones.