business corporate responsibility energy events human rights

Shell on trial

An important trial is due to begin this week in New York. The defendant is the Shell oil company, facing charges that it was complicit in the execution of Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Sar0-Wiwa was tried on trumped up charges in 1995, and hanged for murder alongside eight fellow activists. It is alledged, among other things, that Shell bribed witnesses in the trial.

Charges are being brought against Shell by Saro-Wiwa’s eldest son, and it has taken years of negotiations to get the case into court. Further charges will investigate Shell’s involvement in the imprisonment and torture of Ogonis, who have been protesting against the pollution of their lands for twenty years.

Ken Saro-Wiwa himself expected and predicted that Shell would eventually stand in the dock.  “Its day will surely come” he wrote in his final statement. “The crime of the company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will be punished.”

The day has come for Shell to answer for itself. Whether or not it will be found guilty, let along punished, remains to be seen. The might of Shell’s legal team will no doubt be formidable. The case also relies on relatively recent changes to the law, allowing US courts to try corporations for crimes committed in other countries. Nevertheless, this is not only a chance for justice for the Ogoni people and the Saro-Wiwa family, but a major milestone in corporate accountability.

  • The trial itself was set to start on monday and has been delayed, but you will be able to follow along on the Wiwa v Shell website.

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