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Congressional Commission Hears Testimony on Shell’s Environmental Abuses in the Niger Delta

April 28, 2009
3:36 PM


CONTACT: Center for Constitutional Rights and EarthRights International

Hearing Comes Four Weeks Before Landmark Human Rights Case, Wiwa v. Shell, Goes to Trial in Federal Court in New York

WASHINGTON – April 28 – The U.S. Congress’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission heard testimony today about the negative environmental impacts of oil operations in the Niger Delta, including those of multinational oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta. The hearing, Ecuador, Nigeria, West Papua: Indigenous Communities, Environmental Degradation, and International Human Rights Standards, comes four weeks to the day before the opening of a landmark human rights trial during which evidence will demonstrate that Shell was complicit in egregious human rights abuses in Ogoni, including the execution of nine leaders of a nonviolent movement that opposed Shell’s devastating environmental and human rights practices in the region.

At the hearing, Steve Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International, testified about environmental and human rights issues in Nigeria. “Shell claims that they completely pulled out of the Ogoni region in 1993 . . . . However, Shell continues to ship oil across Ogoni through the Trans-Niger Pipeline,” he stated. “More than a decade after Shell supposedly pulled out, the Ogoni are still suffering ongoing pollution from oil spills and fires on their land.” Congressman James McGovern (D-MA), co-chair of the Commission, inquired into the ways that the U.S. Government can ensure that international environmental and human rights standards are respected by corporations operating abroad, and stated that “environmental contamination is a basic human rights issue.”

Shell began oil production in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria in 1958, and in 2006, an independent team of scientists characterized the Niger Delta as “one of the world’s most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystems.” Of the nearly 27 million people living in the Niger Delta, an estimated 75 percent rely on the environment for their livelihood. Shell’s operations in the Delta led to the deep impoverishment of the Ogoni people and surrounding communities, and prompted the development of a powerful nonviolent movement – the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, or MOSOP – that pressed Shell to clean up its operations in Ogoni, and advocated for benefits for the Ogoni people from oil production in the area.

From 1990-1995, Nigerian soldiers, at Shell’s request and with Shell’s assistance and financing, used deadly force and conducted massive, brutal raids against the Ogoni people to repress the growing movement in protest of Shell. On November 10, 1995, nine Ogoni leaders were executed by the Nigerian government after being falsely accused of murder and tried by a specially-created military tribunal. The Center for Constitutional Rights, EarthRights International, and other human rights attorneys sued Shell for human rights violations against the Ogoni. The case will go to trial on May 26, 2009, in federal court in New York City.

“Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders died because they opposed Shell’s devastating practices in Ogoni lands,” said Jennie Green, attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “We commend Congressman McGovern and other Members of Congress for their interest in the vital issue of environmental degradation and the impact of resource exploitation on the lands and livelihoods of indigenous communities like the Ogoni, and for seeking new ways of ensuring that companies abide by international law.”

For more information about the case, including the environmental impacts of Shell’s practices in Nigeria, see For Interview with lawyers and plaintiffs, contact Riptide Communications, Inc.

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