The District Court of the Hague has issued an interim ruling in favour of four Ogoni widows in their case with Royal Dutch Shell. The court ruled that it does have jurisdiction over the case and that such a case should not be time-barred. It also ruled that Shell should hand over some confidential internal documents to the plaintiffs’ lawyers and that they would have the opportunity to examine witnesses.
In 2017, Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula, four widows of the nine executed Ogoni activists filed a civil lawsuit against Shell in a court at The Hague accusing the corporation of complicity in the unlawful arrest, detention, and execution of their husbands by the Nigerian military government, the violation of their integrity and their right to a fair trial while seeking compensation and an apology.
In November 1995, nine men, the most prominent of them being Ken Saro-Wiwa, were unfairly arrested, tried and killed by the Abacha military junta. Although these men denied the charges against them and insisted on their innocence, the nine of them were killed on murder charges of four chiefs who opposed the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP. Their execution sparked a global outcry leading to Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations until Abacha’s death.
It holds widely that Shell was complicit in the trial and execution of the innocent activists believed to have been killed for their stance in pursuit of the rights of the Ogoni people. The activists were protesting oil pollution, the unfair distribution of oil wealth and the lack of development in Ogoniland, where Shell was extracting oil in the 1950s. But Shell has continuously denied any involvement in the executions, branding the allegations as “false and without merit”.
According to Amnesty International, Shell had evidence that the Nigerian government was responding to the Ogoniland protests with abuse, but continued to dialogue with the government without expressing concern over the fate of the activists. A move that was more or less an endorsement of the government’s actions.
“This decision marks a vital step towards justice for Esther and the other plaintiffs. It also sets an important precedent for other victims around the world who are seeking to hold powerful corporations to account, and who struggle to access justice,” said Mark Dummett, Head of Business and Human Rights, Amnesty International. Dummet praised and commended the women’s courage and persistence in the pursuance of justice.
Speaking to The Guardian in a telephone interview, Kiobel said that her fight for justice is as much about her ravaged community as it is a personal one. “Shell collaborated with my government to kill its people because of oil in Ogoniland,” she said. As each day goes, our people keep dying in numbers, dying of cancer, dying of air pollution, the water – and they haven’t done anything concerning the pollution up till today,” she said.
Shell has faced lawsuits in different countries in connection with the Ogoni executions but has managed to dodge accountability for over two decades. The oil corporation only agreed to a $15.5 million out-of-court settlement to the families of the victims in 2009, saying that the payment was a gesture for peace and not a concession of guilt. “Today’s ruling will have great significance for people everywhere who have been harmed by the greed and recklessness of global corporations,” said Mark Dummett. Shell might now face questioning in a court of law about what they knew and their complicity in the events that took place in Ogoni in 1995.