On May 26, 2009, a potentially historic human rights trial will take place in a federal court in New York. At issue: What did Royal Dutch/Shell, the multinational oil giant, do in Nigeria?
The case is over a decade in the making. The suit, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and EarthRights International, claims that Shell Oil and Brian Anderson—who was the managing director of Shell Nigeria—were complicit in the commission of human rights violations in that country. Specifically, the suit seeks to hold Shell accountable for summary executions, crimes against humanity, torture, inhuman treatment and the arbitrary arrest and detention of Nigerians. The plaintiffs in the case allege that the corporation had a hand in the November 1995 hangings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other human rights activists by Nigeria’s then-ruling military junta. These leaders were non-violently protesting against Shell’s abusive practices in the Ogoni region in the Niger River Delta, including the trail of environmental devastation the corporation has left in its wake. They are known collectively as the Ogoni Nine.
Saro-Wiwa, who with the other activists was convicted and hanged on trumped-up murder charges, demanded a cleanup of Shell’s hundreds of oil spills throughout the region. In addition, and perhaps more poignantly—because wherever there is oil there are monied interests to protect and poor people to potentially exploit—they were pushing for a greater share of oil revenues to the Ogoni people. Presently, nearly 85% of the oil revenues are in the hands of a mere 1% of the Nigerian population, in a country where, according to the African Development Bank, over 70% of people live on less than US$1 a day.