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Wiwa vs. Shell
May 30, 2009 1:24 AM   Subscribe

Wiwa vs. Shell. 14 years ago, Ken Saro-Wiwa (prev) was hung with his counterparts for speaking out against Shell and the atrocities they were committing upon the Ogoni people of the Nigerian River Delta.

The trial was postponed on May 26th, the day before it was scheduled to begin. The trial is expected to excite huge interest on the part of multinational companies and human rights bodies. Its estimated that Shell has extracted $30 billion in oil from Ogoni lands since they first struck there.

Remember Saro-Wiwa

The Case Against Shell
posted by allkindsoftime (23 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a good post, but I wish your Shell link had gone to Shell's statement about the Ogoni issue, and that there had been a few links that focused on the very real problems of Nigerian government corruption and abuses. I think the problem is not just with Shell, but within the government itself.
posted by Houstonian at 2:05 AM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The military government that was discussed in the video is no longer in charge, by the way.
posted by delmoi at 2:11 AM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Saro-Wiwa's son, Ken Wiwa, went to my school (quite a few years before I was there). In 1997, he was asked to come back to talk to the sixth form about his father and the situation Nigeria. He spoke with great passion and power to a room full of cynical, apathetic schoolboys - who sat up and listened. Twelve years on I can remember it incredibly clearly; it was one the key events in my life that made me realise that politics wasn't about what happened over the despatch box of the House of Commons - it was about injustice, and trying to remedy it.
posted by greycap at 2:24 AM on May 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


hanged
posted by mr. strange at 2:34 AM on May 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Men can be hung.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:22 AM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder if they really have a case -- smoking gun documents or some other method of absolute proof -- or if it is just an attempt to highlight their situation. Should the former be true, good luck making them pay up.
posted by waraw at 8:08 AM on May 30, 2009


Anyone know why the trial was postponed with no new date set?
posted by setanor at 8:45 AM on May 30, 2009


"No reason was given for the indefinite delay of the trial in the order, signed by U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood."

For those interested in learning more about the social movement and their history with oil companies before this court case, the wiki for Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People gives an even-handed overview of the events, including a discussion about the ultimatum they presented to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, Chevron, and Shell, for a payment of $10 billion and a demand to stop activities that result in environmental degradation. If the companies did not comply, the Ogonis threatened to disrupt operations. This is important because it signaled a change: The Ogonis were no longer looking to their government to protect them, but instead looking to these companies. The group made good on their threat, beating one man to death and trying to end oil production.

A similar case involved Chevron. "A federal jury on Monday cleared Chevron Corp. of responsibility for any human rights abuses during a violent protest on a company oil platform in Nigeria a decade ago."

There has been discussion about whether the US should have these trials, which involve parties in other countries. It's currently allowed due to the Alien Tort Act, which was passed in 1789, but mostly unused until 1980. This article gives a good overview of that, and lists some court cases (current and past).

Note from that article that we are now trying cases in which companies are accused of crimes during Apartheid in South Africa: "A federal judge in New York recently allowed a lawsuit to proceed against General Motors, Ford and IBM for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity committed by the apartheid government in South Africa."

Other cases mentioned in the article are:
- Caterpillar, for selling bulldozers to Israel used to demolish Palestinian homes
- Dow Chemical, for manufacturing Agent Orange during the Vietnam war
- Yahoo, for sharing user information with the Chinese government
posted by Houstonian at 9:27 AM on May 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


> hanged

It's one thing to be a jerk, it's another to be an incorrect jerk. Executive summary of the long Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage article: "Our evidence shows that hung for hanged is certainly not an error." If you don't feel like talking about this complicated and depressing case, I suggest you just stay out of the thread.
posted by languagehat at 9:36 AM on May 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


It's worth nothing that Shell is currently under investigation for violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

It's one thing to be a jerk, it's another to be an incorrect jerk.

An incisive observation.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 11:28 AM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I still don't buy from Shell unless I'm sure I don't have enough petrol to get to another garage.
posted by scruss at 1:05 PM on May 30, 2009


The United States and other countries considered imposing economic sanctions on Nigeria because of such actions.

"The neighbors were out in their yard beating their dog with a 2 x 4. Uncle Sam considered saying a few stern words but he'd probably be barred from using their swimming pool, so he turned up the TV."
posted by crapmatic at 2:12 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Re: "It's one thing to be a jerk, it's another to be an incorrect jerk. Executive summary of the long Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage article: "Our evidence shows that hung for hanged is certainly not an error." If you don't feel like talking about this complicated and depressing case, I suggest you just stay out of the thread."

You mean this Merriam Webster?:

"nuclear: Though disapproved of by many, pronunciations ending in \-kyə-lər\ have been found in widespread use among educated speakers including scientists, lawyers, professors, congressmen, United States cabinet members, and at least two United States presidents and one vice president. While most common in the United States, these pronunciations have also been heard from British and Canadian speakers." (Merriam-Webster online. Main entry: nuclear)

Just because somebody says something is done does not make it linguistically correct. I mean, really, if you don't feel like talking about a sidebar aspect arising from discussion related to this complicated and depressing case, I suggest you just stay out of MetaFilter.
posted by Mike D at 4:56 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mr. Strange is correct, and doesn't strike me as the jerk here. As any editor worth his semicolon would know, Merriam-Webster is notorious for yielding to lax usage much too quickly, and numerous authorities support "hanged" as proper when referring to an execution. Language must and will evolve, but not so rapidly as to become a mere collection of sloppy errors in constant flux.

>If you don't feel like talking about this complicated and depressing case, I suggest you just stay out of the thread.

Where, then, was your substantive comment about the case?
posted by azaner at 4:56 PM on May 30, 2009


Language must and will evolve

Indeed. Hanged vs. hung is a distinction barely a century old. It's baseless prescriptivism at its worst, really. (That said, I prefer the sound of the former, but there's no accounting for esthetic choice.)
posted by dhartung at 10:49 PM on May 30, 2009


I can't help feeling suspicious that the effectiveness of the FCPA and the Alien Torts Act at actually remedying injustice outside of direct US jurisdiction is waning with the decline in US economic supremacy.

Even if Shell were to get slapped hard by a US court and vowed to never exploit indigenous people again, and the same with IBM, GM, Ford, &c., what's to stop the vacuum from being immediately filled by a Chinese company? They seem to be taking a check-your-ethics-at-the-door policy with regards to Africa, and it's not like the US is really in a position to stop them.

I'm not defending Shell or any other exploitative US company, or saying that we should do nothing at all, or worse yet engage in some race to the bottom, but both the FCPA and the ATA seem almost pointlessly unilateral. In a multipolar world, it seems like their biggest effect would be assuaging the guilt and ensuring the complacency of US consumers.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:59 PM on May 30, 2009


The Chinese don't go into Africa with a sense of ethics or duty left behind. No, they go into Africa with it at the forefront of their considerations. China, however, is generally concerned with respecting sovereignty than it is with the specifics of how it is practiced, necessarily. It's just a very different set of priorities.

Not to condone that or any other position, of course.
posted by Dysk at 3:07 AM on May 31, 2009


I wonder how effective it will be, too. And, how do we mandate court rulings? For example, in this case if Shell is ordered to pay $X, and they refuse, what can the US do about that? Refuse Shell to operate in the US? Then it becomes an international-relations and foreign-policy issue?

I tried to find another case in which a company was sued under the Alien Tort Act, ordered to pay damages, and chose not to, but I'm having a hard time finding one.

- American Isuzu Motors v. Ntsebeza: The car company sued because it did business in South Africa during Apartheid (but not discriminating, and in fact "openly defied apartheid laws"). US Court of Appeals ordered them to pay $400 billion; case is now before the Supreme Court.

- Saleh v. Titan: Government contractors that provide interrogation and translation services sued for torturing people in Abu Ghraib prison. Judgment was in favor of the government contractors, and the case is now before the Court of Appeals.

- Corrie v. Caterpillar: Equipment manufacturer sued for selling bulldozers to Israeli Defense Forces, who then used the bulldozers to tear down homes, which resulted in the death of a peace activist. Case was dismissed when the court found "it did not have jurisdiction to decide the case and would intrude upon the executive branch's foreign policy decisions."

- Tellez v. Dole; Mejia v. Dole: Banana grower sued for using pesticide that caused sterility in workers. Case dismissed because workers were found to not be sterile, and in some cases did not even work on the banana farms at the time the pesticide was used.

- Doe v. Chiquita Brands: Produce company sued for paying terrorist organizations in Colombia to gain control of banana fields. Chiquita plead guilty, and paid $25 million.

- Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain: DEA employee sued for abducting a person to bring them to court to stand trial for torture and murder. DEA employee found guilty, but no damages were allowed.

These are just a few I found, and there are probably 100 or so cases using the Alien Tort Act to bring cases to US courts. But, I've not found one in which a ruling was found against a company, who then ignored the ruling and refused to pay damages. Does anyone know of such a case?
posted by Houstonian at 5:00 AM on May 31, 2009


I wonder how effective it will be, too. And, how do we mandate court rulings? For example, in this case if Shell is ordered to pay $X, and they refuse, what can the US do about that? Refuse Shell to operate in the US? Then it becomes an international-relations and foreign-policy issue?

The court can order that their assets in the U.S. be seized and sold to pay off the judgment, or that a lien be put against any future income in the U.S. (sort of like reach & apply). Come to think of it, I wonder if the Wiwa plaintiffs were able to get any kind of attachment against Shell's assets as security for a potential judgment, as their damages will be very substantial if they win.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 7:54 AM on May 31, 2009


Law Talkin' Guy, would you know the reasons these cases would not go before the International Criminal Court or International Court of Justice, instead of US courts?
posted by Houstonian at 8:58 AM on May 31, 2009


The Politics of Bones: Dr. Owens Wiwa and the Struggle for Nigeria's Oil : is a book by Canadian journalist J. Timothy Hunt. It was published by McClelland & Stewart in September 2005 just before the tenth anniversary of the controversial execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

On November 10, 1995, Nigeria’s military dictatorship executed nine environmental activists. Among them was Ken Saro-Wiwa, the charismatic spokesman of the Ogoni people, whose land in the fertile Niger River delta has been grotesquely polluted by the Royal Dutch Shell Corporation. During Ken’s incarceration, his brother, Dr. Owens Wiwa, fought valiantly to save his life. When his quest failed, Owens narrowly escaped Nigeria with his life, first to London, and then to Toronto.

posted by nickyskye at 9:54 AM on May 31, 2009


Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to pay $15.5m to settle a lawsuit which accused the oil firm of complicity in rights abuses in Nigeria.
posted by homunculus at 7:21 PM on June 8, 2009


good spot homunculus.

Here is the wall street journal link.
posted by bukvich at 12:30 PM on June 9, 2009


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