Human Rights Flashpoints – August 25, 2009

NIGERIA – Instability Despite an Amnesty Deal
Hundreds of militants in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, including one of the main rebels group’s (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND) top commanders Ebikabowei Victor Ben, have begun to hand over their weapons as part of an amnesty deal offered by Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua. According to the BBC, the weapons handed over included hundreds of assault rifles, several rocket launchers and at least 12 gunboats.

However, factions of MEND have rejected the government’s amnesty offer and have pledged to resume attacks once the ceasefire is over on September 15. Security analysts warn that the Nigerian military will likely launch another major offensive against militants who do not accept the amnesty deal once the 60-day offer period officially ends on October 4.

In a separate development, Reuters reports that Nigerian police broke up an Islamic community in the western part of Nigeria and deported dozens of its members to avert renewed violence, such as last month’s clashes with the Boko Haram Islamic sect which reportedly took the lives of 800 people. The Darul Islam community was reported to be forcibly holding women to be wives.

Overheard

We also support the Nigerian Government’s comprehensive political framework approach toward resolving the conflict in the Niger Delta. This process […] is incorporating the region’s stakeholders as absolutely essential, focusing on the region’s development needs, separating out the militants and the unreconcilables from those who deserve amnesty and want to be part of building a better future for that part of Nigeria – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, August 12, 2009

[MEND] should reconsider their stand and join the amnesty boat because the boat is about to sail –  Timiebi Koripamo, Agary, Spokeswoman for the Presidential Panel on Amnesty. 

YEMEN – Renewed Violence in the North
Over 100,000 people have been forced to flee and scores killed due to renewed fighting in the north of the country between government troops and Shi’ite rebels. The United Nations reported on Friday that at least 35,000 fled their homes in the past two weeks alone , while UNICEF reports that thousands of families remain trapped inside the conflict zone and are in urgent need of humanitarian support.

The BBC reports that Operation Scorched Earth, which begun two weeks ago, is aimed at crushing the rebels and recapturing the town of Harf Sufyan. But analysts argue that this latest assault is unlikely to end this 5-year long conflict and may only deepen instability in Yemen. 
 
The rebels, known as the Houthis after their present leader Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, are adherents of the Zaydi branch of Shi’ite Islam and claim the government is oppressing the Zaydis. The rebels also oppose the Yemeni government’s support for the US-led “war on terror.” The Yemeni government enlisted  the support of the US after September 11, accusing the Houthis of having links to al Qaeda, Iran and Hezbollah. Although Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh unilaterally declared the war over in July 2008, full-scale fighting resumed late last month.

Overheard

We call on both parties to return to the cease fire that was established last year. In the meantime, both parties should avoid any action that would endanger the civilian population in the affected area. We also call on both parties to ensure the security of local and international relief workers in the region, and the safe passage of emergency relief supplies to camps housing internally displaced persons – Statement of U.S. Embassy in Yemen, August 22, 2009

UNICEF stands ready to assist the civilian population. It is essential that we gain immediate and secure access to provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance. Children cannot be the innocent victims of conflict – Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director, August 24, 2009

Coming This Week

  • August 24-28: Kenya holds its first national census in 10 years.
  • August 25: Independent Election Commission expected to release partial results of Afghan elections.
  • August 26: Celebrations in the breakaway region of South Ossetia to mark the one year anniversary Russian recognition of its independence following the war with Georgia
  • August 27: South African President and SADC chairman Jacob Zuma makes his first state visit to Zimbabwe.

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team

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