Shell lawsuit (re Nigeria - Kiobel & Wiwa)

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Kiobel v. Shell

Proceedings in the USA

Nigerian Soldier, By SSGT Paul R. Caron, USAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia_CommonsIn 2002, Royal Dutch/Shell was sued in US federal court by Esther Kiobel, the wife of Dr. Barinem Kiobel- an Ogoni activist who was member of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and eleven other Nigerians from the Ogoni region.  MOSOP campaigned against the environmental damage caused by oil extraction in the Ogoni region of Nigeria and for increased autonomy for the Ogoni ethnic group.  Barinem Kiobel and other members of MOSOP were detained illegally in 1994, held incommunicado in military custody, then tried by a special court established by the military government using procedures in violation of international fair trial standards, convicted of murder and executed.  The suit alleges that Shell, through its Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), provided transport to Nigerian troops, allowed company property to be used as staging areas for attacks against the Ogoni and provided food to the soldiers and paid them.  The plaintiffs claimed the defendant companies were complicit in the commission of torture, extrajudicial killing and other violations pursuant to the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA).

In March 2008, the district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.  On 16 November 2009, the plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration was granted asking the court to re-examine the issue of jurisdiction.  The court said in the motion that a direct business relationship between the USA and SPDC must be established in order for ATCA to apply.  On 21 June 2010, the district court ruled that the plaintiffs had not shown that this direct business relationship had existed, and the judge dismissed the suit against SPDC.  The plaintiffs appealed this ruling, and on 17 September 2010 the court of appeals issued a sweeping opinion addressing ATCA lawsuits involving corporate defendants.  The majority opinion affirmed lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, and it also stated that ATCA could not be used to sue corporations for violations of international law.  A separate opinion was written by the third judge from the appeals court panel, who concurred with the majority in judgment only.  This judge vigorously disagreed with the majority’s reasoning; he wrote that the majority’s opinion dealt a “substantial blow to international law and its undertaking to protect fundamental human rights.”  On 14 October 2010, the plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc with the court.  The court of appeals, on 4 February 2011, refused to rehear the case.  The plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court in June 2011 asking it to hear an appeal of the lower court's ruling.  On 17 October 2011 the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the plaintiffs' appeal in this case.  Oral arguments were held on 28 February 2012.  On 5 March the Supreme Court announced that it would not rule on the case in the current term.  It has asked the parties to submit supplemental briefs and will rehear the case in the next term.  The Court asked the parties to submit briefs on whether the Alien Tort Claims Act allows federal courts to hear lawsuits alleging violations of international law which occur outside the United States.  The Court reheard the case on 1 October 2012.  On 17 April 2013 the Supreme Court handed down its decision finding that ATCA does not apply to conduct outside of the United States.  The Court affirmed the dismissal of the case.  A special page with all of the documents related to the Supreme Court review of this case is available here.

Proceedings in the Netherlands

In October 2016, Esther Kiobel filed an application with a New York District Court under the US Foreign Legal Assistance Statute to gain access to important documents from the original US case, to be used in a lawsuit against Shell in the Netherlands.  The documents are in the possession of Shell’s lawyers, Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP.  

On 24 January 2017, Cravath Swaine & Moore were ordered to turn over the documents. On 13 February, the law firm appealed the decision arguing that it will suffer because foreign companies will be disinclined from hiring US lawyers if such wide discovery requests are granted.  A US court of appeals will hear the case on 12 September 2017.

In June 2017, Esther Kiobel and three other women launched a civil case against Shell in the Netherlands.  They claim the company was complicit in the 1995 killings of their husbands, part of the Ogoni 9 activists who contested Shell's operations and the Nigerian Government over the effects of oil pollution. Shell has denied any involvement in their executions.

 

- "Nigeria: Widows of Ogoni Leaders Killed By Abacha Sue Shell in Netherlands", Oladeinde Olawoyin, Premium Times (Nigeria), 29 Jun 2017
- "Companies Shielded as U.S. Court Cuts Human-Rights Suits", Greg Stohr, Bloomberg, 17 Apr 2013
- "Views on Kiobel v. Shell", Salil Tripathi, Institute for Human Rights and Business, 9 Oct 2012
- "Alien torts in America's courts", Editorial, Los Angeles Times, 8 Oct 2012
- "Shell, Corporate Responsibility and Respect for the Law", Amol Mehra & Katie Shay, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, 3 Oct 2012
- "Argument recap: In search of an [Alien Tort Statute] compromise", Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSblog, 1 Oct 2012
- "Supreme Court may narrow law in human rights cases", Jonathan Stempel, Reuters, 1 Oct 2012
- "The U.S. Supreme Court must preserve the Alien Tort Statute for international corporate human rights cases", Marco Simons, EarthRights International, 13 Jun 2012
- "Torture Suits Against Companies Including Shell Draw U.S. High Court Review", Greg Stohr, Bloomberg, 17 Oct 2011
- "US court upholds key Shell ruling in Nigeria case", Jonathan Stempel, Reuters, 4 Feb 2011
- "2nd Circuit Rejects Corporate Liability in Alien Tort Cases", Mark Hamblett, New York Law Journal, 20 Sep 2010
- “Nigeria Torture Case Decision Exempts Companies From U.S. Alien Tort Law”, Bob Van Voris & Patricia Hurtado, Bloomberg, 17 Sep 2010
“Judge Kimba Wood Dismisses Defendant from Aliant Tort Statute Class Action for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction”, Russell Jackson, Jackson on Consumer Class Actions & Mass Torts, 25 Jun 2010

Esther Kiobel, et al. v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Company et al.
- [PDF] Opinion of US Supreme Court, 17 Apr 2013
Petitioners/plaintiffs (Kiobel) - Supplemental Reply Brief, 31 Aug 2012
Respondents/defendants (Shell) - Supplemental Brief, 1 Aug 2012
- [PDF] Supplemental brief for petitioners/plaintiffs (Kiobel), 6 Jun 2012
- [PDF] Kiobel, et al. v. Royal Dutch Petroleum - Brief for Respondents, 27 Jan 2012
- [PDF] Kiobel, et al. v. Royal Dutch Petroleum - Brief for Petitioners, 14 Dec 2011
- [PDF] Kiobel, et al. v. Royal Dutch Petroleum - Petition for Writ of Certiorari, 6 Jun 2011
- US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit: [PDF] Kiobel, et al. v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, et al., 4 Feb 2011 [order denying plaintiffs' petition for rehearing]
- [PDF] Petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc for Plaintiffs-Appellants-Cross-Appellees, 14 Oct 2010
- US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit: [PDF] Order affirming District Court’s dismissal of lawsuit, 17 Sep 2010
- US District Court for the Southern District of New York: [PDF] Opinion and Order [regarding 2008 motion to dismiss], 21 Jun 2010
Opinion and Order re Plainitffs' motion for reconsideration, 16 Nov 2009
Opinion and Order, 25 Jun 2009

- [PDF] Kiobel, et al. v. Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Co., et al. - Brief for the United States as amicus curiae supporting petitioners, 21 Dec 2011
- [PDF] Kiobel, et al. v. Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Co., et al. - Brief of Former US Senator Arlen Specter, Human Rights First, and the Anti-Defamation League as amici curiae in support of petitioners, 21 Dec 2011
- [PDF] Kiobel, et al. v. Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Co., et al. - Brief of Earth Rights Intl. as amicus curiae supporting petitioners, 21 Dec 2011

Wiwa v. Shell
An earlier, related claim was filed by Ken Wiwa (son of the late Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who was executed together with Barinem Kiobel  in 1995) and other members of MOSOP in 1996.  The Wiwa lawsuit was filed against the same defendant companies as the Kiobel lawsuit.  This lawsuit alleged that the Nigerian military government and security forces committed human rights violations, including torture and summary execution of MOSOP members, to suppress MOSOP’s activities and that Royal Dutch/Shell was complicit in the commission of these abuses.  The plaintiffs won several pre-trial rulings, including on motions by the defendants to dismiss the case. 

In early June 2009, the parties announced that they had agreed to a settlement in the case for $15.5 million.  The settlement provides compensation for the ten plaintiffs and covers a portion of the plaintiffs’ legal costs.  The settlement also establishes The Kiisi Trust, intended to benefit the Ogoni people, which will be governed by independent trustees.  This trust is to fund initiatives in Ogoni such as education, women’s programmes, adult literacy and small enterprise support.

- “Shell settles human rights suit for $15.5M”, Chris Kahn, Associated Press, 8 Jun 2009
- [video] Shell in court over alleged Nigeria crimes, Al Jazeera English, 3 Jun 2009
- "Shell must defend Nigerian rights suit, judge says", David Glovin, Bloomberg, 23 Apr 2009
- “Shell Faces Human Rights Grilling”, Tim Webb, Independent [UK], 11 Apr 2004
- “Big Oil and an Activist's Death: Family Sues to Probe Role Played by Shell in Nigerian's Execution”, Elizabeth Neuffer, Boston Globe, 03 Jun 2001

- Shell:
 - Shell in Nigeria: Issues
 - Shell settles Wiwa case with humanitarian gesture, 8 Jun 2009

- [PDF] Statement of the Plaintiffs in Wiwa v. Royal Dutch/Shell, Wiwa v. Anderson, and Wiwa v. SPDC, Lucky Doobee, Monday Gbokoo, David Kiobel, Karalolo Kogbara, Blessing Kpuinen, James N-nah, Friday Nuate, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr., Michael Vizor, Owens Wiwa, 8 Jun 2009
- [PDF] Statement of Plaintiffs' Attorneys in Wiwa v. Royal Dutch/Shell, Wiwa v. Anderson, and Wiwa v. SPDC, 8 Jun 2009

- EarthRights International (NGO representing plaintiffs):Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell) [includes links to court opinions and plaintiffs’ complaints filed in this case]

- Center for Constitutional Rights (NGO representing plaintiffs):
 - Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum [synopsis]
 - [PDF] On Eve of Trial, Settlement Agreements Provide $15.5 Million for Compensation to Nigerian Human Rights Activists and to Establish Trust Fund, 8 Jun 2009

- The Case Against Shell [joint project of EarthRights International and Center for Constitutional Rights]: Wiwa v. Shell

- US Circuit Court for the Second Circuit:
- [PDF] Wiwa v. Shell, 14 Sep 2000 [reversal of lower court’s dismissal of the case]

- US District Court for the Southern District of New York:
- [PDF] Wiwa v Shell – Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release, 8 Jun 2009
- [PDF] Wiwa v. Shell - Denial of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, 23 Apr 2009
- [PDF] Wiwa v. Shell – Dismissal of RICO claims against defendants, 18 Mar 2009

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All components of this story

Article
2 October 2017

Supreme Court Should Reject Corporate Impunity for Financing Terrorism

Author: John M. Eubanks, Motley Rice LLC (Petitioners’ Counsel in Jesner v. Arab Bank)

Imagine a situation where an international bank with a presence in Manhattan holds accounts for known terrorists and serves as the end-payor to beneficiaries of a fund created for the explicit purpose of supporting an armed uprising typified by suicide bombings and indiscriminate killing of civilians carried out by known terrorist organizations with whom the bank’s accountholders are directly affiliated. Then, picture this international bank being immune from lawsuits filed by the victims of these suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings solely on the basis of its corporate form. This is precisely the issue with which the Supreme Court will grapple in Jesner v. Arab Bank, to be argued before the Court on October 11, 2017. 

Jesner addresses the same question that was raised in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. during the October Term 2011. That question is whether the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), creates a categorical bar to corporate liability for violations of the law of nations, or customary international law…

…The language of the ATS does not explicitly exempt corporations. In fact, the text of the statute…specifically lays out who can sue (“an alien”), but it provides no limitation for who can be sued.

…[W]here a corporation engages in conduct that it knows will facilitate violations of the law of nations such as terrorism, crimes against humanity, or even genocide, can that corporation be held liable under the ATS to the victims of those violations? The answer is a simple “yes” based on the statutory text and common law’s interpretation of tort liability, and it is up to the Supreme Court to make this determination.

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Article
1 October 2017

Jesner v. Arab Bank and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Author: John F. Sherman III, Shift, on Clarion

[Article starts p. 12]

…[I]n Jesner, the petitioners, who are victims of terrorist bombings and attacks, are suing the respondent Arab Bank, a multinational corporation based in Jordan, under the ATS. A jury found that the bank had knowingly used its New York branch as a clearinghouse to facilitate the financing of such actions…

The District Court ultimately overturned the verdict and dismissed the claim on the ground that corporations are not subject to suit under the ATS. The Second Circuit affirmed…

…[T]he Guiding Principles remain highly relevant in Jesner. First, their background and content show that international law does not preclude corporate responsibility for violations of human rights. Second, their widespread uptake helps to show that the existence of potential ATS liability benefits businesses abroad much more than it burdens them…

 

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Article
29 September 2017

Corporate Liability for Human Rights Violations: A Preview of Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC

Author: William Dodge, University of California, on Just Security

On October 11, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC on the question whether corporations can be sued for human rights violations under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). This will be the second time the question of corporate liability has come before the Court. In 2011, the Supreme Court granted cert to consider the same question in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., but after oral argument the Court asked for additional briefing on the geographic scope of the ATS cause of action. Ultimately, the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the claims in Kiobel on the ground that they did not “touch and concern” the United States with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritoriality. The Court did not reach the question of corporate liability under the ATS, leaving the Second Circuit’s categorical rule against such liability intact...

The arguments in Jesner fall into three groups:

1) whether customary international law permits corporate liability;

2) whether, as a matter of U.S. domestic law, the ATS cause of action should be interpreted to permit corporate liability;

3) whether the case against Arab Bank should be dismissed on some other ground...

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Article
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Author: Amnesty International France

États-Unis. Le cabinet d'avocats de Shell refuse de transmettre des éléments essentiels dans l'affaire des « neuf Ogonis »; 10 septembre 2017

Le cabinet d'avocats américain de Shell refuse de remettre plus de 100 000 documents internes essentiels à une procédure judiciaire intentée aux Pays-Bas, dans laquelle le géant pétrolier est accusé de complicité dans l'arrestation, la détention et l'exécution illégales de neuf hommes au Nigeria dans les années 1990…

Au terme d'une bataille de 20 années pour obtenir justice, le 28 juin, quatre des veuves de ces hommes, emmenées par Esther Kiobel, ont intenté une action en justice contre Shell aux Pays-Bas. Shell tente d'empêcher la transmission d'informations cruciales dans cette affaire.

Le 12 septembre, la cour fédérale d'appel du deuxième circuit à New York examinera le premier appel déposé par Cravath, Swaine  & Moore, LLP, le cabinet d’avocats de Shell, contre l'injonction d’une cour fédérale de remettre les documents.

« Shell se donne beaucoup de mal pour ne pas divulguer ces informations essentielles. Les documents en question étant très anciens, il est peu probable qu'il existe des motifs commerciaux légitimes pour les garder confidentiels. Alors, qu’est-ce que Shell cherche à cacher ?, a déclaré Audrey Gaughran, directrice générale chargée des recherches à Amnesty International.

Le 24 janvier 2017, une cour fédérale de district de New York a ordonné à Cravath de lui remettre les documents…

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Article
8 September 2017

Amnesty International Targets Cravath as Shell Discovery Fight Goes to 2nd Circuit [subscription required]

Author: Miriam Rozen, American Lawyer

Amnesty International has zeroed in on Cravath, Swaine & Moore, claiming in a Sept. 8 release that the New York firm is refusing to hand over "critical" evidence in long-running litigation against the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell…

Kiobel is now looking to the Dutch courts. And for that, she wants documents—in the possession of Shell's former lawyers at Cravath—related to her unsuccessful case in the United States.

In January, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York in Manhattan ordered Cravath to give Kiobel the requested documents, which previously had been placed under protective order…

Cravath challenged Hellerstein's ruling, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is scheduled to hear the appeal on Sept. 12…

"Suing a U.S. law firm should not be a back door to secure documents from foreign clients, who are outside of U.S. jurisdictional boundaries," Haslam [who is Shell’s spokesperson] wrote in an email…

Backing Cravath in friend of the court briefs are the New York City Bar Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Association of Corporate Counsel, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce…

The Chamber of Commerce, Association of Corporate Counsel and National Association of Manufacturers…argue that the ruling harms the U.S. discovery regime. "The clear message of the district court's decision is not only that protective orders are not protective, but also that a litigant who places faith in a protective order may suffer for its misplaced reliance decades later. By allowing such ready—and calamitous—circumvention, the district court's decision will undermine confidence in the protective orders that are the lifeblood of discovery."

Not surprisingly, Kiobel's lawyer, Marco Simons of the nonprofit EarthRights International, disagrees.

"None of this material is privileged. The only materials at issue were previously produced in discovery," Simons said…

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Article
8 September 2017

Ogoni Nine: Shell’s lawyers refusing to hand over “critical” evidence – Amnesty International

Author: Cletus Ukpong, Premium Times (Nigeria)

The civil suit filed against Shell in the Netherlands for its alleged complicity in the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists by the Nigerian government has taken an interesting turn, as lawyers to the oil giant are being accused of refusing to hand over evidence said to be critical to the case.

The nine men, popularly referred to as ‘Ogoni Nine’ were executed in 1995 by Nigeria’s military regime under controversial circumstances.

The widows of four of the men, led by Esther Kiobel, are the plaintiffs in the case which was first filed in 2001 in the U.S.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, without hearing the substance of the case, had ruled that the U.S. did not have jurisdiction.

The widows filed the lawsuit in the Netherlands on June 28...

mnesty International directly accused Shell of trying to prevent the release of vital information.

Shell’s lawyers, according to the NGO, have appealed against the judgment of a U.S. federal court which ordered Shell to turn over the documents...

Shell has denied complicity in the killing of the Ogoni Nine...

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Article
8 September 2017

USA: Shell’s law firm refuses to hand over evidence critical for Ogoni Nine case Share

Author: Amnesty International USA

Shell’s US law firm is refusing to hand over more than 100,000 internal documents crucial to a legal case in the Netherlands which is alleging the oil giant’s complicity in the unlawful arrest, detention and execution of nine men in Nigeria in the 1990s...

After a 20-year battle for justice, on June 28, four of the men’s widows, led by Esther Kiobel, filed a legal writ against Shell in the Netherlands. Shell is trying to prevent the release of information vital to the case.

On September 12, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York will hear the first appeal by Shell’s lawyers Cravath, Swaine & Moore, LLP against a federal court order to turn over the documents.

“Shell has gone to extraordinary lengths to withhold this critical information. Because the documents in question are so old, it is highly unlikely that there are legitimate business reasons for keeping them confidential. So what does Shell have to hide?” said Audrey Gaughran, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International...

On January 24, 2017, a New York district court ordered Cravath to turn over the documents.

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Article
3 July 2017

Widows of the "Ogoni nine" executed in Nigeria in the 1990s launch a court case in the Netherlands against Shell; say company was complicit in their husbands' executions

Author: Rebecca Ratcliffe, The Guardian (UK)

"Ogoni widows file civil writ accusing Shell of complicity in Nigeria killings", 29 June 2017

The widows of men who were hanged by Nigeria’s military government in the 1990s have launched a civil case against Shell, accusing it of complicity in their husbands’ executions. Esther Kiobel, the widow of Dr Barinem Kiobel, and three other women whose husbands were hanged in 1995, served a writ in a Dutch court this week, following a 20-year battle with the oil giant. Kiobel’s husband was executed along with the writer and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, and seven other men, who became collectively known as the Ogoni nine. They were hanged in a military court following a peaceful uprising by 300,000 Ogonis against Shell’s widespread pollution in Ogoniland...Amnesty International, which has supported Kiobel’s legal team, has accused Shell of complicity in the state executions. Shell has branded the allegations “false and without merit”...In a briefing published on Thursday, Amnesty alleges that Shell encouraged security forces and military authorities to stop the protests, even though the company knew this would lead to human rights violations....In a statement, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited said: “We have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made by the plaintiffs in this tragic case...“SPDC has not had an opportunity to review the full report produced by Amnesty International but, based on a summary of its findings made available to us, the Amnesty allegations against Royal Dutch Shell and SPDC are false and without merit...

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Article
29 June 2017

Nigeria: Shell complicit in the arbitrary executions of Ogoni Nine as writ served in Dutch court

Author: Amnesty International

Oil giant Shell stands accused of complicity in the unlawful arrest, detention and execution of nine men who were hanged by Nigeria’s military government in the 1990s…following the launch of an explosive new case against the company in the Netherlands over four of the executions.

The civil case has been brought by Esther Kiobel… and three other women….Esther Kiobel [also] accuses Shell of… the violation of [her executed husband’s] personal integrity; the violation of his right to a fair trial and his right to life, and her own right to a family life…

The claimants are demanding damages for harm caused by Shell’s unlawful actions, and a public apology for the role that Shell played…

Shell Nigeria stated that: “The allegations cited in your letter against [Shell] are false and without merit.  [Shell Nigeria] did not collude with the military authorities to supress community unrest and in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria….We have always denied these allegations in the strongest possible terms.”…

Esther Kiobel first filed a case against Shell in New York in 2002, but in 2013 the US Supreme Court ruled that the US did not have jurisdiction, without hearing the substance of the case

In the 1990s Shell in Nigeria was a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch/Shell (they later merged), and its operations were overseen by a management structure known as the Committee of Managing Directors (CMD) based in Europe.

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Article
29 June 2017

Nigeria: Widows of Ogoni Leaders Killed By Abacha Sue Shell in Netherlands

Author: Oladeinde Olawoyin, Premium Times (Nigeria)

The widows of four of nine men executed by Nigeria's military regime in 1995 have filed a civil lawsuit seeking compensation and an apology from Royal Dutch Shell…

According to a writ filed in a court in The Hague, the widows are seeking compensation from the company for alleged complicity in a military crackdown, leading to the deaths of their husbands…

But Shell, the largest oil producer in Nigeria, has repeatedly denied any involvement in the executions or the government's response to the unrest.

A statement by the multinational said....

"SPDC (Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria) did not collude with the authorities to suppress community unrest and in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria. In fact, the company believes that dialogue is the best way to resolve disputes."…

"Shell and the military regime formed an alliance in the events leading to the deaths of the Ogoni 9," the writ [filed by the claimants] said.

"Their relationship was one of mutual dependence: the Nigerian state was dependent on the income from oil that Shell generated; in turn, Shell was dependent on the benevolence and protection of the regime to pursue its activities in Nigeria and in this way realise a substantial part of its turnover."...

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