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Nigeria: Shell’s Oily Friendship With Human Rights Abusers

The leak of documents from Shell reveal its deep financial ties to human rights abusers.

Shell spent at least $383 million on security in Nigeria between 2007 and 2009, or a substantial 40% of the company’s billion-dollar global security spending, according to internal financial data leaked to oil watchdog Platform. Shell’s leaked data is analysed in a new Platform briefing, Dirty Work: Shell’s security spending in Nigeria and beyond.

The briefing, as reported in the Guardian and Data Blog, reveals the extent of Shell’s financial support for Nigerian government forces and other armed groups during a period of intense conflict in the Niger Delta. It follows Platform’s 2011 report, Counting the Cost, which showed how Shell’s reliance on government forces in Nigeria and its routine payments to armed militant groups had exacerbated human rights abuses. Amongst this report’s findings, contracts implicated Shell in the funding of militants; funding that helped to perpetuate ongoing conflict in the Delta region. The new briefing confirms the vast scale of Shell’s security expenditure and its devastating consequences.

What did Shell spend the money on? In 2009, Shell’s financial support for government forces in Nigeria, including the notorious ‘kill and go’ police, reached an estimated $65 million. Shell executives also appear to have turned a blind eye to ‘Other’ unexplained security expenditure of $75 million in Nigeria in 2009. During the period, Shell’s security spending fuelled conflict and enabled systematic human rights abuses by government forces and armed militants.

Apart from its enormous size, what is striking about Shell’s security spending is how little security it actually created. Shell paid many millions of dollars to government forces and militant groups with a track record for creating instability across the Delta. While primary responsibility for human rights abuses lies with the Nigerian government and other perpetrators, Shell bears a heavy responsibility for the devastating social impacts of its security spending. The increased militarisation of the Delta region has exacerbated the impunity enjoyed by human rights abusers and facilitated the indiscriminate nature of the military attacks seen. The vast security apparatus has made the communal conflict far worse, adding yet another layer to the complex conflict dynamics in the region.

Instead of spending vast sums on soldiers, militants and mercenaries, Shell should address the root causes of the conflict by cleaning up decades of oil spills and end the illegal and harmful process of gas flaring; the burning of gas that comes mixed with crude oil, an illegal practice which releases a cocktail of toxins into the environment. The victims of Shell’s activities over the decades, and government forces and other perpetrators, must be held accountable for violations.

Shell must publish the details of any payments it makes to the Nigerian government, police and armed forces and stop making payments where there is a significant risk they will fuel the abuse of human rights. As the report highlights, ‘If Shell is to avoid liability for human rights abuses [aiding international crimes] and corruption, hiding such payments is not a sustainable option’.

Dutch MPs have submitted six questions to the Netherlands government, to investigate the impacts of Shell’s security spending. The organisation Sum Of Us has also launched an online petition demanding that Shell stop funding armed conflict in Nigeria.

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