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Widows Hold Shell Liable for ‘Judicial Murder’

By John Donovan

In the last 24 hours, Royal Dutch Shell companies in The Netherlands, the UK and Nigeria have all been served legal proceedings by a human rights law firm, Prakken d’Oliveira.

An extract from an English version of the Writ of Summons is provided below. The content is a further hammer blow to Shell’s already shattered reputation arising from its past activities in Nigeria e.g. OPL 245.  Basically the “judicial murder” of the “Ogoni 9” has come back to haunt Shell again.

It is proper to fully declare my involvement in this case.

Esther Kiobel, the wife of Dr. Barinem Kiobel, one of the executed Ogoni 9, contacted me in 2013 soon after the US Supreme Court had ruled on a legal technicality, that her case against Shell could not be heard in US courts.

I was pleased to became her advisor. My websites act as a magnet for parties intent on pursuing Shell.

My advice was that we should investigate suing Shell in its home country, The Netherlands.

I introduced her to a Dutch lawyer Channa Samkalden who has previously acted as my legal advisor in relation to Shell.

I supplied information and potential evidence from my archive files.

I instigated Reuters news coverage that generated contact from other parties who have subsequently joined the action.



  1. In this case four Nigerian widows hold Shell liable for the unlawful detention and execution of their husbands in 1995 and the damage they have suffered in connection with those events.
  2. On 10 November 1995 the military regime in Nigeria hanged dr. Barinem Kiobel, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levula, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, and John Kpuinen – together usually known as the ‘Ogoni 9’. The international community described their deaths as “judicial murder”; in the preceding show trial the fundamental rights of all concerned were frequently violated and elementary principles of the proper administration of justice were ignored.
  3. Shell played a crucial role in the events leading to the deaths of the Ogoni 9. In this summons the claimants argue that Shell is an accessory to the violation of (inter alia) their husbands’ right to life, their right to a family life and their right to personal dignity and integrity.
  4. Having taken Shell to court in the United States, surviving relatives of Saro-Wiwa, Dobee, Gbooko, Nuate and Kpuinen agreed an out-of-court settlement with Shell in 2009; Shell paid this group a sum of 15.5 million dollars. Kiobel too tried to bring her case before the court in the United States. In 2013 the Supreme Court declared itself incompetent in this regard. The claimants have to date been deprived of a judgment or settlement.
  5. This summons consists of the following. The next chapter introduces the claimants and defendants in detail. Chapter 3, for a good understanding of the case, gives a brief description of the background against which the events in Nigeria unfolded in the 1990s. Chapter 4 describes the course of events surrounding the Ogoni 9 trial in 1994- 1995 and therefore contains the facts forming the basis for the claimants’ claim. Chapter 5 takes a brief look at the trials previously held in the United States in this matter. Chapter 6 discusses the international competence of the Dutch court, while chapter 7 sets out the scope and content of Nigerian law. Chapter 8 contains further details of Shell’s complicity. In chapter 8.2 and 8.3 there is first an account of how Shell kept encouraging the regime to act and clear things up in Ogoniland, while knowing that this had already given rise to many fatalities and casualties. Chapter 8.4 shows the existence of a deep entanglement between the regime and Shell, so that nothing effectively happened without the knowledge and support of the other party: Shell paid the army and police, made vehicles and other facilities available and itself issued a tender for arms; Shell and the regime also ran a joint intelligence service and operated a revolving door policy. Although Shell itself publicly claimed that it did not want to take a political position, it certainly did not in fact follow an apolitical course – certainly not where the role of MOSOP was concerned (8.5). Shell also actively involved itself in the course of events during the trial (8.6 and 8.7); it delegated its own counsel, who in turn was involved with the bribery of witnesses; it received the judges who sat on the tribunal; it even offered to influence the outcome of the trial, provided that Saro-Wiwa moderated his tone (which he refused). The Ogoni 9 trial was unmistakably a show trial, whose tragic outcome was fixed in advance and was also known to Shell. Shell had the perfect opportunity and was perfectly placed to prevent the deaths of the claimants’ husbands, but instead put its economic interests first and even carried on negotiating future projects with the regime during the trial (8.8). Chapter 8.9 shows that Shell operated continuously as one company in this regard, both SPDC and the parent companies effectively taking action and SPDC always being managed from the parent companies. The chapter ends with a conclusion (8.10), which briefly summarises why these circumstances lead to liability for complicity as set out in chapter 7.1. Chapters 9, 10 and 11 successively cover the offer of proof, the explanation of the claims and the claim for relief. For the sake of readability, the summons concludes with a list of abbreviations used, an explanatory list of persons and a timeline.

In a statement, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited said: “We have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made by the plaintiffs in this tragic case. The executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogonis in 1995 were tragic events that were carried out by the military government in power at the time. We were shocked and saddened when we heard the news of the executions.”

The statement added that SPDC appealed to the Nigerian government to grant clemency. “Support for human rights in line with the legitimate role of business is fundamental to Shell’s core values of honesty, integrity and respect for people. We believe that the evidence will show clearly that Shell was not responsible for these tragic events,” it said.

“SPDC has not had an opportunity to review the full report produced by Amnesty International but, based on a summary of its findings made available to us, the Amnesty allegations against Royal Dutch Shell and SPDC are false and without merit. SPDC did not collude with the authorities to suppress community unrest and in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria. In fact, the company believes that dialogue is the best way to resolve disputes.”

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