Oct 18, 2011

Ogoni: US Supreme Court to Rule Against Shell In Lawsuit

United States Supreme Court said yesterday (17th October) that it would decide whether Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) could be liable in a case concerning human abuses brought against the oil giant.  

Below is an article published by This Day Live

The court said it would use the dispute filed under the 1789 U.S law, called Alien Tort Statute, to decide whether companies can be held liable in the U.S courts for human rights violations abroad.

Reuters reported Monday that the Alien Tort has been increasingly used in recent years to sue corporations for alleged abuses abroad.

The newswire also reported that Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case early next year, with a decision likely by June.

The Alien Tort Statute, also called the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA)) is a section of the United States Code that reads: "The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."

This statute is notable for allowing US courts to hear human rights cases brought by foreign citizens for conduct committed outside its shores.

The families of the seven indigenes who were murdered for protesting Shell's exploration and development sought to hold the company liable under the Alien Tort Statute.

A US appeals court in New York had dismissed the lawsuit on grounds that corporations cannot be held liable in the US for violations of international human rights law.

However, the plaintiffs’ attorneys had appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that review was necessary because appeals courts around the nation have issued conflicting rulings on the issue of corporate liability under the more than 200-year-old law.

A recent report by a London-based oil and gas industry watchdog, Platform, had revealed that the oil giant was fuelling armed conflicts that resulted in the killing of about 60 persons in the Niger Delta region.

The report released barely two months after a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) accused Shell of being responsible for the Ogoniland pollution, revealed that the oil major paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to feuding militant groups as well as government forces that attacked, tortured and killed Nigerians living in the creeks and swamplands in the region.

Platform had in a 75-page report implicated the Anglo-Dutch oil company in a decade of human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, adding that Shell's "routine payments exacerbated local violence, in one case leading to the deaths of 60 people and the destruction of an entire town.”

The investigation by the organization, which included testimony from Shell's own managers, also alleged that government forces hired by Shell perpetrated atrocities against local civilians, including unlawful killings and systematic torture.

Shell disputed the allegation by the London-based oil and gas watchdog, which also maintained that it had seen testimony and contracts that implicated Shell in the regular awarding of lucrative contracts to militants. In one case last year, Shell was alleged to have transferred more than $159,000 (£102,000) to a group credibly linked to militia violence.

In a response to THISDAY’s inquiry on Platform’s report, Manager, Media and Communication, Shell Nigeria Exploration & Production Company Limited, Mr. Tony Okonedo, said: "Shell respects human rights wherever in the world we have operations. Our code of conduct describes the high ethical standards that all our staff are expected to uphold, and we support the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, which help extractive companies ensure their security operations are consistent with upholding human rights.

"We are committed to working with the people and government of Nigeria to ensure that everyone benefits from the country's natural resources. But working in the Niger Delta presents significant challenges.

"We have long acknowledged that the legitimate payments we make to assist many communities cause friction with others who don't receive help, and we are working to improve this situation through a number of initiatives.

"The presence of the Nigerian military in the Delta is essential to protect people and assets; after all, the Nigerian government owns a 55 per cent share in SPDC. However, suggestions in the report that SPDC has any control over military activities are completely untrue.

"It is unfortunate that Platform has repeated several old cases, some of which are unsubstantiated and some proven inaccurate, because doing so obscures the good work which has been going on for many years. However, we will examine its recommendations carefully and we look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with the Nigerian government and others on these issues."