Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is to pay out $15.5m (€11.1m) to settle a lawsuit over its alleged complicity in the 1995 execution of several Nigerian environmental activists.
In a move announced yesterday, the company acknowledged no wrongdoing in the 1995 hangings of six people opposed to oil exploration in the west African country, including playwright and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Shell said it agreed to settle the action in the hope of aiding the “process of reconciliation” and also recognised that the victims’ families had suffered.
Mr Saro-Wiwa’s son, Ken Jr, who helped bring the lawsuit in the US District Court in New York, hailed the payout as “a victory”.
The action accused Shell of colluding with the country’s former military government to silence environmental and human rights activists in the country. It was strongly denied by the oil giant.
Among the claims were that Shell officials helped furnish Nigerian police with weapons, participated in security sweeps of the area, and hired government troops that shot at villagers protesting over the construction of a pipeline.
Mr Saro-Wiwa, who led rallies against Shell and blamed the company for numerous oil spills and gas fires in the Ogoni region, was executed on November 10, 1995 along with eight other oil activists.
A Nigerian military tribunal convicted them on what were widely viewed as trumped-up charges of murdering four political rivals. At the time, then-Prime Minister John Major called the executions “judicial murder”.
Speaking after Shell’s settlement was announced, Mr Saro-Wiwa Jnr, 40, said: “I think (my father) would be happy with this.
“The fact that (Shell) would have to settle is a victory for us.”
Besides compensating the families, the money will pay for years of legal fees.
And a large chunk of the settlement – about a third – will create a trust that will invest in social programmes in the country including educational endowments, agricultural development, support for small enterprise and adult literacy programmes.
Malcolm Brinded, Shell’s executive director, exploration & production, said: “This gesture also acknowledges that even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered.”
The lawsuit stemmed from two cases accusing Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Brian Anderson, the former managing director of Nigerian subsidiary Shell Transport and Trading, of being complicit in decisions by Nigeria’s then-military government to hang oil industry opponents, including Mr Saro-Wiwa.
Jenny Green, a lawyer for the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York who helped file the lawsuit in 1996, said: “Is it enough to bring back the lives of our clients? Obviously not.
But she said it would send a message to Shell and other multinationals that operate in developing countries.
“You can’t commit human rights violations as a part of doing business,” she said. “A corporation can’t act with impunity. And we think there is accountability in this settlement.”