Photograph — The Guardian

Four widows of the nine executed Ogoni activists have filed a civil lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell seeking compensation and an apology for alleged complicity in a military repression that led to the killing of their husbands. The lawsuit was filed in a court at The Hague, Netherland.

In November 1995, nine men, the most prominent of them being Ken Saro-Wiwa, were unfairly arrested, accused, tried and killed by the Abacha military junta. Although they denied the charges against them, insisting that they were framed, the ‘Ogoni 9’ 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 played the role of an accomplice 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. But the company has continuously denied any involvement in the executions, branding the allegations as “false and without merit”. “We have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made by the plaintiffs in this tragic case,” Shell said in a statement.

Backed by Amnesty International, the widows of some of the executed men, Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula, served a writ in a Dutch court this week accusing Shell of complicity in the unlawful arrest, detention, and execution of their husbands, the violation of their integrity, and the violation of their right to a fair trial and right to life.

According to Audrey Gaughran, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International, the company had plenty of evidence that the Nigerian military was responding to the Ogoniland protests with abuse. But continued to dialogue with the government rather than express concern over the fate of the prisoners. “Such conduct cannot be seen as anything other than endorsement and encouragement of the military government’s actions,” he said.

Shell has faced several lawsuits in different countries in connection with the executions but has managed to dodge accountability for over two decades. The oil giant 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.

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