Royal Dutch Shell has never denied that its oil operations have polluted large areas of the Niger Delta — land and air. However, the oil company had resisted charges of complicity in human rights abuses.
Court documents now reveal that in the 1990s Shell routinely worked with the Nigerian military to suppress resistance to its activities, often from activists in Ogoniland, in the delta region.
Confidential memos, faxes, witness statements and other documents, released in 2009, show the company regularly paid the military to stop the peaceful movement against pollution, even helping to plan raids on villages suspected of opposing the company. Several thousand people were killed in the 1990s and many more fled.
In 2009, in a New York federal court, that evidence never saw light during the trial. Shell had been accused of collaborating with the state in the execution in 1995 of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leaders of the Ogoni tribe. Instead, Shell paid US$15.5 million to the eight families in settlement.
Among the documents was a 1994 letter from Shell agreeing to pay a unit of the Nigerian army to retrieve a truck, an action that left one Ogoni man dead and two wounded.
Shell said it was making the payment “as a show of gratitude and motivation for a sustained favorable disposition in future assignments.”
Brian Anderson, the director of Shell Nigeria during those years, said in 2009, after the New York settlement, the company “played no part in any military operations against the Ogoni people, or any other communities in the Niger Delta and we have never been approached for financial or logistical support for any action.”
However, he conceded that Shell had paid the military on two occasions.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say oil companies working in the delta, of which Shell is the largest, have overseen a “human rights tragedy.”
Most of the alleged human rights abuses, they say, follow the companies’ refusal to abide by acceptable environmental standards.
Despite the flood of lawsuits, cases can be delayed for years. Very few people are able to take on the oil giant, which has 90 oil fields in the delta where it has operated since the 1950s.
Increasingly, though, international groups are using courts in Europe and the US against big oil companies.
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