By Lekan Olanrewaju
The U.S. Supreme Court has said it will on Tuesday listen to arguments from parties on allegations of abuses perpetrated against the people and environment of Ogoniland. There have been allegations of environmental and human rights abuses against Shell in the Ogoni region in Nigeria but the hearing will seek to determine whether or not multinational corporations could be held liable for alleged complicity in human rights abuses outside the country.
In 1995, during the Abacha regime, 9 Ogoni activists were executed for protesting against Shell operations in Ogonilad, Esther Kiobeln, the widow of one of the slain protesters had dragged the company before the Supreme Court seeking sanctions against it for allegedly being involved in extortion, torture and murder of the people of the area.
Shell has vigorously denied any involvement in the killings or in any human rights abuses, but said they acknowledged plaintiffs and others had suffered. Governments of Britain and German, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other multinational corporations have also supported Shell, saying what happened in Nigeria has no connection to the United States.
The administration of President Barack Obama and international human rights organizations have come out supporting the argument of corporate liability.
The plaintiffs, Jennifer Green, a professor of law from the University of Minnesota, said the court would seek to determine “whether a corporation is basically immune for human rights abuses”, considering the principle that “corporations doing business in the United States are bound by U.S. law and U.S. law includes the prohibition of human rights violations. So, when a corporation is complicit in those violations, it can be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute,” she said.
“The corporations have a lot of money and are very attractive targets,” said Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich, an expert in international law. “The idea is that they were in bed with the countries.”
Ben Ikari, a U.S.-based participant in the 1990s protests plans to organize protests outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday. He spoke to Voice of America (VOA) saying he was proud of the battle against oil companies in the Niger Delta region.
”The Ogoni case even from the non-violent struggle we started has been a kind of boost to other oppressed people in Nigeria, even Africa in general, extending even to the world.” He said. “People now know they can face or challenge multinational corporations such as Shell, strong, mighty, rich corporations such as Shell, and so that fear has been taken away,”
Similar cases filed by relatives of Ogoni protest leader Ken Saro-Wiwa resulted in a 2009 $15.5 million settlement by Shell for the plaintiffs and Ogoni people.
The settlement was reached after 13 years of legal tussle just before the scheduled start of a jury trial in a New York federal court.