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FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA: Shell complicit in the arbitrary executions of Ogoni Nine as writ served in Dutch court

6 Jul 2017
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Business and Human Rights

Oil giant Shell stands accused of complicity in the unlawful arrest, detention and execution of nine men who were hanged by Nigeria’s military government in the 1990s, Amnesty International can reveal today, following the launch of an explosive new case against the company in the Netherlands over four of the executions.

The civil case has been brought by Esther Kiobel, the widow of Dr Barinem Kiobel, and three other women. Esther Kiobel has pursued Shell for 20 years over the death of her husband. He was hanged in 1995 along with the writer and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, and seven other men, collectively known as the Ogoni Nine. At the time the executions sparked a global outcry.

Esther Kiobel accuses Shell of complicity in the unlawful arrest and detention of her husband; the violation of his personal integrity; the violation of his right to a fair trial and his right to life, and her own right to a family life. Amnesty International supported Esther’s legal team to bring the case to the Netherlands, and has released a new briefing, In The Dock, detailing the role played by Shell in the executions.

A brutal campaign

The executions were the culmination of a brutal campaign by Nigeria’s military to silence the protests of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by Ken Saro-Wiwa. MOSOP said that others had grown rich on the oil that was pumped from under their soil, while pollution from spills and gas flaring had “led to the complete degradation of the Ogoni environment, turning [their] homeland into an ecological disaster.”

The military authorities responded to the MOSOP protests with force, committing numerous serious human rights violations including killings, torture and rape.

Stopping protests was a major concern for both Shell and the Nigerian government, who were business partners in operating wells across the Niger Delta. At the time of the executions Shell was by far the most important company operating in Nigeria. It pumped almost one million barrels of crude oil a day, roughly half of Nigeria’s total daily oil production. Nigeria’s oil exports made up some 96% of the country’s foreign earnings.

A devastating injustice

Esther Kiobel is bringing a civil case along with three other victims whose husbands were executed along with Barinem Kiobel. The claimants are demanding damages for harm caused by Shell’s unlawful actions, and a public apology for the role that Shell played in the events leading to the deaths of their husbands.

In May 1994, four Ogoni chiefs known to be opponents of MOSOP were murdered. Without presenting any evidence, the government blamed MOSOP and arrested scores of people, including Ken Saro-Wiwa and Barinem Kiobel.
After the arrests, at least two prosecution witnesses came forward to say that they had been bribed by the government to incriminate the accused.

On 30-31 October 1995, the Ogoni Nine were convicted and sentenced to death.

On 10 November the men were hanged and their bodies dumped in an unmarked grave.

“Esther Kiobel has lived in the shadow of this injustice for more than twenty years, but she has refused to let Shell silence her. Today her voice rings out on behalf of so many others whose lives have been devastated by the oil industry in Nigeria,” said ★Esther Kiobel’s lawyer.

A dangerous relationship

Internal Shell documents seen by Amnesty International reveal that the company knew that the trial of the Ogoni Nine was unfair, and was informed in advance that Ken Saro-Wiwa was highly likely be found guilty.

Nevertheless, the company maintained a close relationship with the Nigerian government, and even offered to help Ken Saro-Wiwa, if he “softened his stance” on the company.

Shell made this offer to Ken Saro-Wiwa’s brother in August 1995 when Ken Saro-Wiwa was in military detention. Saro-Wiwa’s brother claims Shell offered to help get his brother freed while Shell says that all the company offered was humanitarian or medical aid.

“Shell’s version is frankly implausible. If true, it reveals a level of corporate self-interest that defies belief.”

Ken Saro-Wiwa rejected Shell’s offer.

After her husband’s death Esther Kiobel fled to Benin in fear for her life, and in 1998 she was granted asylum in the United States, where she still lives.

“The dangerous liaison between Shell and the Nigerian government has never been properly investigated. Decades after the horrific chain of events that led to the hanging of the Ogoni Nine, there are still huge unanswered questions hanging over Shell,” said Audrey Gaughran.

“It is time to shine a spotlight into these dark corners of Shell’s past. Nothing can bring back the lives lost but here is a chance to send the message that no company, however big, however powerful, can evade justice forever.”

Amnesty International presented the above allegations to Shell. Shell’s global headquarters did not provide a substantive response. Shell Nigeria stated that:

“The allegations cited in your letter against [Shell] are false and without merit.  [Shell Nigeria] did not collude with the military authorities to supress community unrest and in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria….We have always denied these allegations in the strongest possible terms.”

29 June 2017

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