US appeals court upholds verdict for Shell in Nigeria protest deaths

Judges for the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City Sept. 17 upheld a verdict in favor of Royal Dutch Shell PLC in a case brought by families of Ogoni protesters who were executed by the Nigerian government in 1995, apparently in retaliation for speaking out against the oil company. The court ruled that the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) does not apply to corporations, relieving Shell of liability for alleged complicity in human rights abuses in Nigeria. The plaintiffs had accused Shell of enlisting Nigerian military forces to help stop protests in the country, resulting in the violation of human rights among the Ogoni people.

Shell previously reached a $15.5 million settlement in 2009 with the families of the protesters. Shell did not admit any wrongdoing in the deaths of the nine activists, which included Ken Saro-Wiwa, a well-known Nigerian activist and writer. Saro-Wiwa founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, an organization that is credited with assisting in ceasing oil production in Ogoniland.

Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a jury verdict clearing Chevron of wrongdoing in the 1998 deaths of two protesters occupying a Nigerian oil platform operated by the company. Protesters Arolika Irowarinun and Bola Oyinbo were killed in May 1998 on Parabe Oil Platform and several others were injured when Nigerian government security forces, called in by Chevron Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of Chevron, opened fire on the protesters. The families of Irowarinun and Oyinbo, as well as several injured protesters, subsequently filed a lawsuit under the ATCA, and Nigerian and California law. The appellate court ruled that there were no errors in jury instructions given by the trial court, the trial court properly dismissed the Alien Tort Act claims for wrongful death and survival and the Torture Victims Protection Act does not apply to corporations.

From Jurist, Sept. 18. Used with permission.

See our last post on Nigeria.

  1. corporate libility
    This is shocking in view of a 1795 Opinion of the U.S. Attorney General that recognized that a company had rights under the ATCA for violations of international law and an Opinion in 1907 that recognized that a U.s. company was liable under the ATCA for violating a treaty, not to mention a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1899 that recognized that a company had a right under a treaty or other judicial decisions in the U.S. and abroad that have recognized corporate liability under international law.

  2. Ogoni struggle continues
    Ogoni leaders on Jan. 4 called on Nigeria’s National Assembly to “immediately expel” Shell Oil from the country, citing a long list of offences including “murder, conspiracy to commit murder, bribery and racketeering, tax evasion” and “distribution of arms.” They also called on the United Nations to re-visit Shell’s role in the death of Ogonis and patrons, Ken Saro Wiwa and eight others. (Intercontinental Cry, Jan. 31; National Union of Ogoni Students press release, Jan. 4)