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Shell in out-of-court settlement negotiations with Ogoni plaintiffs?

June 3, 2009

Shell faces day in court over Nigerian deaths

Catherine Boyle

Shell is to face the families of nine protesters who were executed by the Nigerian Government as a pre-trial conference begins today after several delays.

Lawyers representing Shell and the plaintiffs, who allege that the company colluded with the Nigerian Government in the 1995 execution of activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, the author, will convene at 2pm in New York.

The civil trial of Shell was originally scheduled to begin jury selection last Thursday.

One source said that the delays were the result of negotiations between the plaintiffs and Shell over an out-of-court settlement.

Although such a settlement may involve a financial outlay on the part of Shell, it could avoid some of the more damaging allegations connected to the action being aired in court.

Shell has always denied any involvement in the death of the activists.

However, the allegations have been damaging to its reputation, with more than 60,000 people worldwide watching a video detailing the allegations on YouTube since the trial was postponed.

If the action proceeds and is successful, the trial will be a landmark case on how global companies can be held accountable for human rights abuses in countries in which they operate.

It is a test for the Alien Torts Statute, which allows non-US citizens to file lawsuits in American courts for alleged international human rights violations.

Saro-Wiwa, the writer of Sozaboy, a novel in patois describing the effects of war on a simple Nigerian village boy, was one of nine activists executed on charges of murdering four political rivals.

He led campaigns against the exploitation of oil in the homeland of the Ogoni, his tribe.

When Saro-Wiwa was executed, Sir John Major, the Prime Minister at the time, described the punishment as “judicial murder”.

Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr, the activist’s son who has continued his campaign, said last month: “For the relatives, the trial remains our last opportunity to close this sad chapter in our lives.

“For 12 years we have all separately developed strategies to survive, living with the anger and the rage that one’s relative was unjustly murdered and that many of the institutions and individuals who were responsible for human rights violations continued not only to get away with murder but also to profit from their crimes.”

A spokeswoman for Shell said last week: “The allegations made in the complaints against Royal Dutch Shell concerning the 1995 executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight fellow Ogonis are false and without merit.

“Shell in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence against them or their fellow Ogonis. We believe that the evidence will show clearly that Shell was not responsible for these tragic events.”

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