On the eve of the beginning of jury selection in New York, it was reported yesterday that Royal Dutch Shell settled the law suit brought against it by the son of Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and the families of the other activists killed with him.  The plaintiffs alleged that Shell officials helped furnish Nigerian police with weapons, participated in security sweeps of the area, and hired government troops that shot at villagers protesting the construction of a pipeline. Moreover, that Shell helped the government capture and hang Saro-Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Saturday Doobee, Felix Nuate, Daniel Gbokoo and Dr. Barinem Kiobel on Nov. 10, 1995.

Throughout the fourteen years of litigation Shell denied any involvement in the human rights abuses committed by the Nigerian government but Malcolm Brinded, Shell’s executive director of exploration and production said that the settlement was a step towards reconciliation.”This gesture also acknowledges that, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered,”

The Wiwa family was represented by Jenny Green of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Green said the settlment send a a message to other multinationals that operate in developing countries,”You can’t commit human rights violations as a part of doing business,” she said. “A corporation can’t act with impunity. And we think there is accountability in this settlement.”

As we indicated in an earlier blog, this case was filed under the Alien Torts Claims Act. It is not yet possible to get a criminal case for violation of humanitarian law in an international forum. But the case against Shell was a significant milestone is accountability for corporations and their obligations to comply with human rights standards.

In addition to the settlement, Shell will pay lawyers fees for the plaintiffs. One third of the settlement will be placed in a trust fund to be used on community development projects for the Ogoniland region, which is Shell operated and where Saro-Wiwa and the others lived.

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