A Shell Game: Kiobel vs Royal Dutch Petroleum

Kiobel vs Shell

Esther Kiobel stands alongside human rights activists outside of the US Supreme Court on Oct 1, 2012. © Erica Razook

Outside the United States Supreme Court on Monday, a staff member from Earthrights handed Esther Kiobel a page to read. “It’s her story,” he said to a small crowd of dedicated activists holding “#shameonshell” signs. Ms. Kiobel began to read, but soon put the paper down and started talking.

“In an executive meeting, they were trying to get my husband to help get rid of Ken,” she said, speaking of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the environmental activist who led a campaign against Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta, and who was executed by the Abacha government in 1995, together with Esther’s husband Barinem and seven others.

“I was myself charged. I was locked up twice. At night sometimes I go to sleep but then wake up and write what comes out of my head. I was stripped naked. Locked up twice.”

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Corporate Accountability Comes Before the U.S. Supreme Court

By Erica Razook, Amnesty’s Business and Human Rights Group

Members of the Ogoni community outside of the Supreme Court, February 28, 2012. Esther Kiobel, center.

Esther Kiobel is a person.

The bright sunlight that washed the steps of the US Supreme Court on Tuesday did not compete with her radiance, the resolve of a widow, a survivor. Outside the court, her eyes searched unquestionably and steadfastly for justice.

In January 1995, when she visited her husband Barinem in a Nigerian prison to bring him some food, she was stripped, beaten and thrown into a cell herself. In November that year, Barinem was executed alongside eight other activists from the Ogoni region of Nigeria, provoking widespread international condemnation of the country’s military rulers.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Get on the Bus for Human Rights

Chances are, if we’ve met, you’ve heard me talk about Get On The Bus for Human Rights (GOTB)! I’ve got several versions under my belt — the PowerPoint presentation, the 5 minute DVD, and a Twitter-friendly elevator pitch, but basically:

“We are the largest grassroots event organized by Amnesty International USA members. Take action with us on the third Friday in April – that’s today! Speakers a.m. Rallies p.m.”

The idea was simple: Take your activism to the next level. Members of local AIUSA chapter Group 133 from Somerville, MA were working on the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa, who is best remembered as an environmental defender. He was among the leaders of peaceful protests against the environmental exploitation by oil companies and physical abuse by security forces in the Niger Delta region.

According to GOTB historians, one group member wanted to hop on a bus down to New York City to visit the Nigerian Consulate. After all, why not hand deliver our letters and call attention to our concerns in person?

Thirty people rode down to NYC that first year in support of human rights. Since New York City is relatively close to Boston and hosts diplomatic offices for practically every nation in the world, it’s been easy to continue our annual human rights pilgrimage. We now estimate around 1,000 people participate, taking peaceful action on behalf of three or more cases in one day.

As we approach our 15th anniversary, we can celebrate many successes including: calling attention to femicides in Guatemala, highlighting the failure of Guatemalan authorities to adequately investigate murders of over 1,900 young women; helping to secure the release of Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, Ethopia’s most prominent human rights defender; and successfully lobbying TIAA CREF to adopt socially responsible investment policies.

Here’s the line-up of what we’ll be supporting today during GOTB 2010:

  1. Calling for the release of Sri Lankan journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam who was recently sentenced to 20 years of hard labor for commentary that was often critical of the Sri Lankan government; one of the last columns published before his arrest was titled “Child soldiers: What the govt. report did not report.”
  2. Keeping the pressure on the Myanmar government to release Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and all Burmese political prisoners. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 20 years, in detention or under house arrest. She continues to be held under house arrest without charge or trial.
  3. Demanding that Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen be released from prison immediately.  He was handed a 6-year prison term after a secret trial that found him guilty of ‘subversion’ for producing a documentary giving voice to Tibetan grievances under Chinese rule.
  4. Calling upon the Democratic Republic of Congo to support women’s rights defenders who have come under severe threat.

Visit our Twitter page and our website, where you’ll find all the updates on today’s events.

Nearly 100 Days of Pressure: Will Shell’s New CEO Come Clean on Niger Delta?

By Anna Phelan, Amnesty International USA’s Business and Economic Relations Group

Since the release of Amnesty International’s report Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta (30 June 2009), our global membership has acted to get Shell’s new CEO Peter Voser to come clean on the impacts of its operations in the Niger Delta, during his first 100 days on the job. Here’s one of my favorite actions:

Parisian AI-ers show Shell how to clean up

AI’s report looks at the impact of pollution and environmental damage caused by the oil industry on the human rights of the people living in the oil producing areas of Niger Delta. Some of the key concerns highlighted in the report focus on health and livelihood — the lack of access to potable water and damage to fisheries and local farming.

Shell was quick to challenge AI’s report, claiming that Amnesty International made no attempt at open dialogue with Shell and that the report contained no new insights. We set the record straight providing dates and evidence. Shell should not think its recent $15.5 million settlement in the landmark Wiwa v. Shell case remedies more than 30 years of environmental contamination and inadequate clean-up.

When will Shell do more? AI-France says that over 2,000 cards and 20,000 electronic postcards have been distributed, but the company has not heard appeals by Amnesty International. AI-UK’s Protect the Human blog says Shell has not responded to their 3500+ emails. AIUSA members can lend their support to this global action. Very simply, we’re asking Voser to clean up oil pollution in the Niger Delta, clean up Shell’s practices, and come clean on the information Shell holds on pollution in the region, but hasn’t made public.

:: Take Action Now. Tell Voser to come clean in the Niger Delta. ::

The reality is that Shell’s pollution and exploitation in the Niger Delta has created a hell on earth for the 31 million people who live in a region that’s home to one of the top 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world. Voser’s 100th day as CEO of Royal Dutch Shell is October 8th. Remind him that we’re watching. Tell him to come clean on Shell’s pollution in the Niger Delta.

Big Oil Finally Pays in Nigeria: A Victory for Corporate Accountability

By Anna Phelan, Amnesty International USA’s Business & Economic Relations Group

poster of Ken Saro-Wiwa during a rally on the Port Harcourt highway 10 November 2005

An Ogoni man carries a poster of Ken Saro-Wiwa at a rally in Nigeria, November 2005 ©AFP/Getty Images

My mom called me to tell me that a settlement was reached in the Wiwa v. Shell case.  She saw a report on the nightly television news earlier this week. That’s how I knew this story was really big news.  In Tuesday’s Guardian (UK), Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr. talks about the families’ decision to accept the settlement with Shell.  He says, the choice “enabled [the plaintiffs] to advertise the settlement as a living, breathing example of how and why the commitment to peace, non-violence and dialogue is the best way to resolve the challenges in the Niger Delta.” What better advertisement than international news coverage?

When I explain the work Amnesty International members undertake, I point out that there are different levels of success. Our letter writing can result in the release of a prisoner of conscience.  Meetings with diplomats and elected officials can lead to the passage of critical legislation in support of human rights. Many of us wrote countless letters to Nigerian government officials when Ken Saro-Wiwa was adopted as a prisoner of conscience in the 1990s.  After his execution, we continued to work closely with the Nigerian diaspora in the U.S., vowing to “Never Forget” Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9. We held ceremonies – outside the United Nations, in front of the Nigerian Consulate in D.C., and in our communities – to rename streets Ken Saro-Wiwa Place or Ogoni 9 Square in their honor.

Sometimes we don’t immediately see the success we hoped for.  And while Amnesty International has not participated in the lawsuits brought against Shell, our continued work on corporate accountability issues will benefit from Wiwa v. Shell’s successes. Michael D. Goldhaber’s A Win for Wiwa, A Win for Shell, A Win for Corporate Human Rights at The AmLaw Daily offers a comprehensive summary of the benchmarks achieved through the settlement.  Stay tuned for the next big news story, we’re well on our way towards more success.

Learn more about how Amnesty works to promote corporate accountability for human rights.

Ken Saro-Wiwa: The Legacy of an Environmental Defender

Ken Saro-Wiwa

Ken Saro-Wiwa

Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9. That sounds like the name of a rock star or pop music group, no? Well, to me, human rights activists and environmental defenders are rock stars. And I have no doubt that Ken Saro-Wiwa would still be touring and drawing huge crowds if he were alive today.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was more of a prolific indie rocker. He was a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, primarily for his work as president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). MOSOP grew out of the concerns of indigenous peoples in the Niger Delta – concerns that are globally echoed by many indigenous communities today – about land rights, environmental degradation, and physical abuse by security forces. If you’re not already familiar with the region, it’s important to understand that the Niger Delta is a major source of oil production.

Under the rule of General Sani Abacha, the Nigerian military tried and executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders in 1995. The deaths of the Ogoni 9 are widely acknowledged to be the result of MOSOP’s peaceful protests against Royal/Dutch Shell. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell) isn’t the only oil giant implicit in human rights violations in Nigeria. Concerns over human rights violations by Chevron (CVX) and subcontractors of both multinational oil companies were highlighted in Amnesty International’s 2005 Report Nigeria: Ten years on: injustice and violence haunt the oil Delta.

You won’t hear a cover band performing Ken Saro-Wiwa’s biggest hits, but his message is still on the top of the charts. Fourteen years later, Shell now finds itself at the center of a landmark lawsuit by the families of the Ogoni 9 led by EarthRights International and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Wiwa v. Shell cites the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) – one of the only pieces of legislation that exists to hold corporations accountable for their human rights abuses. More specifically, it allows non-US citizens the opportunity to file suits in U.S. courts. But wait, that’s not the amazing part. Did I mention that the ATCA was adopted in 1789? A law that’s been on the books for 200+ years has the potential to form legal precedent for future corporate accountability work.

You can be sure the significance of this case is not lost on big corporate human rights offenders like Chevron (CVX) and ExxonMobil (XOM). That is the legacy of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s voice. We keep it on shuffle or archive it in our iTunes library, but rest assured, human rights activists never forget.

- By Anna Phelan, member of Amnesty International USA’s Business & Economic Relations Group