The widows of four men executed by Nigeria's military government in 1995 have filed a civil lawsuit against oil giant Shell for alleged complicity in a military crackdown.
Esther Kiobel, the widow of Barinem Kiobel, and three other women whose husbands were hanged in 1995, served a writ in a Dutch court this week, following a 20-year battle with the oil company.
Facilitated by the Nigerian government, Shell’s oil activity in the Niger Delta resulted in decades of pollution in local communities. In protest, the Ogoni people launched the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP, led by Ken Saro-Wiwa, in the 1990s.
The government crackdown on the movement ultimately led to the hanging of Saro-Wiwa, Kiobel’s husband, and seven other men, who became collectively known as the Ogoni nine.
The four widows allege that Shell provided support to the crackdown and seek compensation and an apology from the largest oil producer in Nigeria.
"Shell and the military regime formed an alliance in the events leading to the deaths of the Ogoni 9," the writ said.
"Their relationship was one of mutual dependence: the Nigerian state was dependent on the income from oil that Shell generated; in turn, Shell was dependent on the benevolence and protection of the regime to pursue its activities in Nigeria and in this way realize a substantial part of its turnover."
Amnesty International, which has supported Kiobel’s legal team, also claimed that Shell encouraged security forces and military authorities to stop the protests, even though the company knew this would lead to human rights violations.
“Shell was reckless in raising Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP as a problem, significantly exacerbating the risk to Saro-Wiwa and those linked to MOSOP,” said Audrey Gaughran, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International. “Shell knew full well that the government regularly violated the rights of those linked to MOSOP and that it had targeted Saro-Wiwa.”
In response, Shell branded the allegations as “false and without merit” and denied any involvement in the executions.
"We have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made by the plaintiffs in this tragic case," Shell said in a statement. “The executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogonis in 1995 were tragic events that were carried out by the military government in power at the time. We were shocked and saddened when we heard the news of the executions.”
"SPDC (Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria) did not collude with the authorities to suppress community unrest and in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria. In fact, the company believes that dialogue is the best way to resolve disputes," it added.
In recent years, Shell has faced lawsuits in several countries over oil spills and environmental damages in the Niger Delta.