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Saro-Wiwa’s Family: Shell’s Trial, a Relief


By Kingsley Nwezeh, 10.10.2008

The family of the slain writer and Ogoni rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, has said the impending trial of oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum, in the United States over the 1995 hanging of Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists is a big relief.

THISDAY had reported yesterday that after several years of litigation, the trial of Royal Dutch Shell for alleged complicity in the murder of Saro-Wiwa and eight Ogoni activists will be held next year.

The case entitled Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Shell and Wiwa v. Anderson concerns the November 10, 1995 hangings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) known as “Ogoni Nine” and the shooting of a woman protesting the bulldozing of her farm by Shell in preparation for a pipeline project.

Justice Kimba Wood of the New York District Court had ruled that the trial would commence on February 9, 2009.

Officials of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), the Nigerian arm of the company, were unwilling to react to the development last night.

A source said only Shell International could respond to the issue.

But reacting to the development, the family of late Saro-Wiwa said the news about the commencement of the trial was a relief to those whose rights were abused in the oil bearing communities of the Niger Delta region.

The family said in a statement yesterday that it was encouraged by the news that after 12 years Saro-Wiwa’s insistence that Shell would one day have its day in court had been finally vindicated.

“The family and all those who have had their human rights abused in resource bearing communities are humbled and greatly encouraged by this news. It is a relief that after 12 years, we have finally vindicated Ken Saro-Wiwa’s insistence that “Shell will one day have its day in court,” the statement said.

According to the family, the development in the US was an indication that non-violence and strict adherence to the rule of law remained the foundation of true justice even as it maintained that the legacy of injustice posed danger to lives, the environment and energy security in the Niger Delta region and beyond.

“We hope, ultimately, that this will reinforce the message that non-violence and the rule of law are the foundations of true justice especially at a time when the unacceptable legacy of injustice poses a clear and present danger to lives, the environment and energy security in the Niger Delta and around the globe,” it said.

The family expressed gratitude to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) for its persistence in the search for justice.

“We welcome the decision of the judge and would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Center for Constitutional Rights and other people of conscience who have stayed the course,î it said.

According to documents made available by EarthRights International, one of the counsel, Shell allegedly engaged in acts of oppression against peaceful opposition to the company’s environmental damage and human rights abuses in the Ogoni area.

The action was brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (RICO)

The defendants dismissed the complaints of lack of personal jurisdiction over Royal/Shell and lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
According to the defendants, ACTA did not apply to a corporation and the claim was precluded by the political questions and act of state doctrines as well Nigerian law on corporate liability.

They also argued that the case should be heard in the Netherlands or England.

But on September 25, 1998, Judge Wood ruled that personal jurisdiction was appropriate in New York but also ruled that England was a more convenient forum and therefore that the defendant’s motion to dismiss should be granted for inconvienient forum.

Both plaintiffs and defendants appealed and cross-appealed prompting the Court of Appeal on September 15, 2000 to reverse the District Courtís inconvienient forum dismissal thereby concluding that the US was the proper forum.

The court further upheld the district court’s ruling that jurisdiction over the defendants was proper.

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