An indigene of Bodo, Ogoniland region in Nigeria, tries to separate with a stick the crude oil from water in a boat at the Bodo waterways polluted by oil spills attributed to Shell equipment failure.(Photo credit: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
By Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director
This week’s ruling by a Dutch court in a case brought by four Nigerian farmers against the oil company Shell for pollution damage represents a small victory – but also underlines the real-world challenges facing victims of pollution and human rights abuses involving multinational companies.
The four farmers who brought the case had seen their livelihoods destroyed by oil pollution from Shell’s operations.
The court found in favour of one plaintiff, stating that Shell Nigeria had breached its duty of care in that case by failing to take reasonable action to prevent third parties tampering with oil wells and causing oil spills. Shell will now have to pay compensation to the affected farmer.
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.