Yesterday, four Nigeiran widows filed a civil writ of summons against Shell before the Dutch courts for complicity in the death of their husbands in 1995.

On 10 November 1995, Barinem Kiobel, Baribor Bera, Paul Levula and Nordu Eawo were executed together with Ken Saro-Wiwa and four other political prisoners (the so-called ‘Ogoni 9’). The show trial that preceded the executions was condemned internationally due to the flagrant violations of the right to a fair trial. The executions were described as “judicial murder”.

The Ogoni 9 were part of a group of prominent dissidants from Ogoniland who opposed the military regime of President Abacha and Shell. Ken Saro-Wiwa was the founder of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). MOSOP wanted Shell to clean up the severe oil-pollution in the area and wanted the local population to share in the profits of the oil extraction. The military regime used brute force to crush the protests by MOSOP.

Widows Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Charity Levula and Blessing Nordu consider Shell to be complicit in the unlawful detention and execution of their husbands, and in violations of their own human rights. The 140-paged writ of summons explains how Shell and the regime worked together in an attempt to crush the Ogoni resistance. This was necessary to enable Shell to resume its work in Ogoniland, from which it had been forced to withdraw as a result of the unrest. Nigeria, which derives the bulk of its revenue from oil, is largely dependent on the oil production by Shell; Shell, who generates a significant portion of its profits in Nigeria, is in turn dependent on the Nigerian state.

Among other things, the writ of summons shows that Shell urged the regime to intervene in protests, also after numerous deaths had occurred as a result thereof, and that it provided the regime with logistical and financial support. It continued to point out the economic consequences of the unrest, which eventually led to the Ogoni 9-show trial. During the trial, Shell engaged a lawyer to represent its interests who was also involved with the bribing of witnesses. At no time whatsoever did Shell attach any consequences to the grave human rights violations that it knew it was involved in. It did, however, make an offer to Ken Saro-Wiwa that it would act on his behalf, but only if MOSOP would cease its international protests. Saro-Wiwa turned down that offer. All the while, Shell was unabatedly and constructively working together with the regime, and less than a month after the executions, it announced a new large-scale gas project. At that time, the international community had already ostracized Nigeria both politically and economically.

The widows demand a ruling on the unlawfulness and liability, and a public apology from Shell.

They are represented by lawyers Channa Samkalden and Tom de Boer.


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