Earlier this year, the District Hague Court rejected a lawsuit brought by four Nigerian widows against global oil giant Shell. The lawsuit claims that Shell purportedly helped to corrupt witnesses that were testifying against the widows’ late husbands. The Nigerian government executed the four men in 1995 following protests of Shell and its alleged exploitation of the Niger Delta.
The Back Story
Former military ruler Sani Abacha executed the husbands of four women, as well as five other protestors opposing Shell’s involvement in the Niger Delta. The killed activists have been deemed as the “Ogoni Nine.” The deaths of those executed was the result of the Nigerian government’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors. The protests were conducted by the Ogoni people opposing Shell’s exploitation of the Niger Delta’s oil resources as well as the conglomerate’s destruction of the territory of Ogoniland.
The widows sued Shell for its alleged involvement in their husbands’ arrest, detention, prosecution, and eventual execution by the Nigerian government. After exhausting their legal remedies in Nigeria, the widows sought to hold the oil giant responsible in Hague. In 2019, a Dutch Court ruled it had jurisdiction to oversee the case. Some witnesses that testified in court, five of them specifically, stated they were coached to incriminate the defendants—the protestors who were eventually killed.
These witnesses also stated Shell representatives paid them for their testimony. Shell has denied any involvement in the defendants’ case. The Dutch court, however, ruled that there was not enough evidence to support the accusations put forth by the widows of the deceased who alleged that Shell bribed witnesses who testified in their husbands’ case. As a result, the court held that Shell was not liable for the protestors’ deaths.
Multi-Million Dollar Settlement Shell and the families of the nine activists who were executed by the Nigerian government reached a $15.5 million settlement in 2009. The following year the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision in favor of Shell determining that the widows could not seek damages because the Alien Tort Claims Act, a 1789 U.S. federal law that gives the federal courts jurisdiction to hear lawsuits filed by non-U.S. citizens for torts committed in violation of international law, did not apply to corporations. More information on the case can be read at Jurist.com
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