A landmark trial against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell’s alleged involvement in human rights violations in the Niger Delta begins this Wednesday in a federal court in New York. Fourteen years after the widely condemned execution of the acclaimed Nigerian writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the court will hear allegations that Shell was complicit in his torture and execution. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: A landmark trial against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell’s alleged involvement in human rights violations in the Niger Delta begins Wednesday in a federal court here in Manhattan. Fourteen years after the widely condemned execution of the acclaimed Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the court will hear allegations that Shell was complicit in his torture and execution.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was the founding member and president of MOSOP, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, a group committed to use nonviolence to stop the repression and exploitation of the Ogoni and their land by Shell and the Nigerian government.
KEN SARO-WIWA: The indigenous people have been cheated through laws such as are operated in Nigeria today. Through political marginalization, they have driven certain people to death. In recovering the money that has been stolen from us, I do not want any blood spilled, not of an Ogoni man, not of any strangers amongst us. We are going to demand our rights peacefully, nonviolently, and we shall win.
AMY GOODMAN: In 1996, a year after Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were hanged, the Center for Constitutional Rights, EarthRights International and other human rights attorneys brought a series of cases against Royal Dutch Shell and Brian Anderson, the former head of Shell’s Nigeria operation. They accused Shell of working closely with and financing the Nigerian military government to brutally quell the peaceful resistance against Shell’s presence in the country. Shell strongly denies all charges.
The cases against Shell were brought under the US Alien Torts Claim Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act and will finally go to trial this week despite Shell’s attempts to get the cases thrown out of court over the past decade.
Ken Wiwa, Saro-Wiwa’s son, told reporters earlier this month that, quote, “In a sense we already have a victory, because one of the things my father said was that Shell would one day have its day in court.”
Well, when Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill and I traveled to the Niger Delta in 1998, we went to Ogoniland. We visited Ken Saro-Wiwa’s parents. An Ogoni man stepped forward from the hundreds of villagers who gathered to greet us, and he began reciting the final speech of Ken Saro-Wiwa, made shortly before he was hanged.
OGONI MAN: I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Neither imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory. I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial, and it is as well that…
JEREMY SCAHILL: When we visited the parents of Ken Saro-Wiwa a few days before coming to Ilajeland, this man stood up and recited Saro-Wiwa’s closing statement before the military tribunal that would ultimately hang him.
OGONI MAN: In my innocence of the false charge I face here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger Delta and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side. God is on their side.
AMY GOODMAN: The voice of an Ogoni man reciting the last words of Ken Saro-Wiwa.
I’m joined right now by two guests. Steve Kretzmann is the executive director of Oil Change International. He was at Shell’s annual shareholder meeting in London last week and has been following the case against Shell. He also worked closely with Ken Saro-Wiwa in the last two years before Ken’s death. Steve Kretzmann, joining us from Washington, DC.
We’re also joined here in New York by Han Shan, the director of the ShellGuilty campaign, a coalition initiative of Friends of the Earth, Oil Change International and PLATFORM/Remember Saro-Wiwa.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I wanted to start with Ken Saro-Wiwa, because of the trial that’s beginning this week. Steve Kretzmann, you knew him well. Tell us about who he was.
STEVE KRETZMANN: Ken was an amazing man. He’s easily the most extraordinary individual I’ve ever met, deeply, philosophically and strategically committed to nonviolence. You know, he spanned worlds. He really — you know, the protest of the Niger Delta peoples against the way that the oil companies have polluted their landscape and conspired with the Nigerian government for decades has really gone on since at least 1970. That’s the earliest recorded references we have to protests by local communities. But it took until Ken came on the scene in 1990 with the formation of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People to internationalize the cause and for his articulate voice, for his charisma to be lent to the cause, which really educated all of us around the world about the tragedy that is ongoing today in the Niger Delta.
AMY GOODMAN: I had a chance to interview Ken Saro-Wiwa for Pacifica station WBAI in New York. I was co-hosting the morning show with Bernard White, and a Nigerian activist brought him into the studio that morning unannounced. It was Ken’s final visit to the United States. It was just before he returned to Nigeria and was arrested, then tried and executed. This was Ken Saro-Wiwa on radio.
KEN SARO-WIWA: Shell does not want to negotiate with the Ogoni people. Each time they’ve come under pressure from local people, their want has always been to run to the Nigerian government and to say to the Nigerian government, “Oil is 90 percent of your foreign exchange earning. If anything happens to oil, your economy will be destroyed. Therefore, you must go and deal with these people, these troublemakers.” And most times, the government will oblige them and visit local communities of poor, dispossessed people with a lot of violence.
And when these communities then protested and said, “Look. Look at the amount of violence that is being used against us, even though we are only protesting peacefully,” then the oil companies will come and say, “Well, there is no way we can determine how much violence a government decides to use against its own people.” So, basically, the local communities have no leverage with the oil companies at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is the government now of Nigeria?
KEN SARO-WIWA: There is a military government in power at this time. And indeed, military people have been in power in the country for a long time.
AMY GOODMAN: Because they suspended the results of the elections?
KEN SARO-WIWA: Yes, indeed. But for a long time now, Nigeria has been under military dictatorships. And the oil companies like military dictatorships, because basically they can cheat with these dictatorships. The dictatorships are brutal to people, and they can deny the rights of — human rights of individuals and of communities quite easily, without compunction.
AMY GOODMAN: Ken Saro-Wiwa, how does the oil companies — how do Shell and Chevron deal with you as the president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People?
KEN SARO-WIWA: Well, recently, when the protests started, Shell, they had a meeting. And the operatives of Shell in Nigeria and of those at The Hague in the Netherlands, and in London, held a meeting, and they decided that they would have to keep an eye on me, watch wherever I go to, follow me constantly, to ensure that I do not embarrass Shell. So, as far as I’m concerned, I’m a marked man.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ken Saro-Wiwa back in 1995. In fact, Steve Kretzmann, you organized that trip?
STEVE KRETZMANN: I did. I was one of the co-organizers of that trip, yep.
AMY GOODMAN: And the month and year of that trip?
STEVE KRETZMANN: That was January or February of 1994.
AMY GOODMAN: And he returned in 1994 to Nigeria, and he was soon arrested.
STEVE KRETZMANN: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And then he was ultimately tried. Explain that trial, Steve Kretzmann. And right now, with the three cases being brought against Shell, explain what was Shell’s role, if any, in that trial?
STEVE KRETZMANN: Well, the trial was widely condemned by independent observers — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, even the British government — as being a sham and a “travesty of justice,” was the quote that Prime Minister John Major at the time said about the trial and the ultimate execution of Ken.
You know, Shell’s role is obviously the issue that begins this week in court. I think there are some truly amazing aspects and pieces of evidence that will come out. One of the most damning, I think, is the signed affidavits from the witnesses who were at the trial. There were witnesses at the trial who said that Ken was involved in a crime. This is the crime for which I believe he was framed. Those witnesses subsequently signed affidavits with a British lawyer saying that they were bribed by the Nigerian government and Shell to testify against Saro-Wiwa. So I think that’s one of the most damning pieces of evidence that will come out over the next several weeks in the New York courtroom.
Shell also, we will see that they were deeply involved in the planning of the trial and really, I think, the campaign to silence the Ogoni and Ken Saro-Wiwa. And, you know, it’s quite troubling, the cozy relationship that existed in between this oil company, which is the largest multinational that operates in Nigeria today and was at the time, and what was a military dictatorship at that time. I think it’s extremely troubling and should give us all pause about the role of multinational corporations in the world today.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. Then we’ll be back. Steve Kretzmann, our guest, executive director of Oil Change International. We’ll also be joined by Han Shan, coordinator of ShellGuilty campaign. We did invite Shell on the broadcast.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. We are talking about the true cost of oil, and after Shell, we’ll turn to Chevron. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest, Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, he’s just back from London, the Shell shareholder meeting. Han Shan, in studio with us, coordinator of ShellGuilty campaign.
I want to go to a short clip from a video that, Han Shan, you produced to publicize the upcoming trial. It’s called The Case Against Shell. Shell made a motion to pull the video off the Wiwa v. Shell website, wiwavshell.org. This clip features Ken Saro-Wiwa’s son Ken Wiwa and Marco Simons, the legal director of EarthRights International.
MARCO SIMONS: Ultimately, Shell’s lawyers conspired with the prosecution of the Ogoni leadership and participated in bribing witnesses against the Ogoni Nine in securing their convictions. And, of course, they were ultimately executed.
KEN WIWA: The Nigerian military announced this week that my father and eight others have been sentenced to death. They have no right of appeal.
NARRATOR: On November 10th, 1995, after a trial universally condemned as a sham and a sentence met with shock and outrage around the world, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were hanged by the Nigerian military government. Ken’s last words were, “Lord, take my soul, but the struggle continues.”
KEN WIWA: I urge all of you here to keep the pressure on Shell to accept the responsibility for what has happened in Ogoni and what is still happening.
AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, that of Ken Wiwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s son, and before that, Marco Simons, legal director at EarthRights International.
Han Shan, explain what happened with this video.
HAN SHAN: Well, I was working with EarthRights International for several months before resigning, basically, to work on this ShellGuilty campaign, and obviously we’re not coordinating with the litigation team. It was something that I was involved in before I joined the ShellGuilty campaign. And I helped produce that video.
But basically, we learned about this, because I’ve just been following along with court documents that are publicly available on the United States District Court website and saw that Shell had been complaining about some of the education and outreach activities that the litigation team is doing. And there was an order that was noted on the website, and I was able to look at a document where they had opposed one of the lawyers’ participation in the trial, because he had a link to the video on his firm’s website. And subsequently, the court ordered them to remove the website after multiple requests from Shell.
So, it is the video that Shell does not want the public to see, but, of course, you know, it’s the internet. It’s been on the website. It’s been out there. It’s on YouTube. So, they have removed it from the website, but it’s still out there. And obviously it’s something that’s — it contains dangerous truths that we hope people will watch and learn from.
AMY GOODMAN: This ShellGuilty campaign that you’re coordinating, explain what you’re doing.
HAN SHAN: Well, basically, as I said, I left working with EarthRights, because their involvement in the litigation, along with co-counsel, Center for Constitutional Rights, it constrains them from doing all kinds of things, understandably. There are certain things that they can’t say and can’t do, because their focus is on litigation and in the courtroom.
But we felt that it was important that we keep a spotlight on Shell, on this trial, and make sure that people know, you know, people like yourself who followed this fourteen years ago. There are an awful lot of people who don’t even realize that this is coming to court. There are profound implications. So, we organized ShellGuilty essentially to highlight Shell’s crimes and keep a spotlight on this trial and also push for an end to gas flaring. That is something that animated the resistance to Shell of MOSOP and Ken back in the day, and it’s still going on now.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the gas flaring.
HAN SHAN: Well, gas flaring is a practice that Shell would never get away with in the US, they would never get away with in Europe, and they do it today in Nigeria twenty-four hours a day, and they’ve been doing it for decades. It’s the burning off of associated gas, gas that’s released through oil extraction activities. And they do it because it’s cheaper and easier than re-injecting the gas into the wells or actually capturing it and using it.
It could be used to actually give electricity and power to some of these impoverished villages that have enriched Shell and the Nigerian government so much. But instead, they burn it off in these toxic plumes of fire that release all kinds of toxins and enormous amounts of greenhouse gases that add to the climate crisis. And, you know, it’s something that aggravates local communities. It’s poisonous to local communities. And, you know, Shell has continued to choose to engage in this practice, because it’s more cost-efficient than doing the right thing and finding a solution with its $30 billion in annual profits and utilizing the gas or at least re-injecting it.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how these are actually three cases, what’s going to be happening tomorrow, Wednesday, in federal court here in New York, that have been consolidated into one, Han Shan.
HAN SHAN: Well, basically, you know, the first lawsuit was filed, as you mentioned, back in 1996, almost exactly a year to the day after the Ogoni Nine were hanged. And that was brought by Owens Wiwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s brother, and Ken Wiwa, his son. But subsequently, there were other lawsuits, as well: one against Brian Anderson, the head of Shell Nigeria at the time, as well as some lawsuits related to a few other incidents that are part of this trial. So, a shooting incident in which Shell requested the Nigerian military and later compensated them, they basically arrived at a nonviolent protest and shot and killed a man named Uebari N-nah.
So, the judge in this case, Chief Judge Kimba Wood, who’s head — the chief judge here at the Southern District Second Circuit, has sort of just brought all these cases together to be heard in one trial, because they’re all absolutely interrelated and commingled. But the way that they’ve been consolidated, you’d have to ask a lawyer to explain all the complexity of it. But, you know, some charges could be dropped or thrown out or settled, and some could move forward. So it’s all a matter of, you know, what we’ll see over the next month or so.
AMY GOODMAN: Steve Kretzmann, you’ve just come back from Britain. You were in London for the Shell shareholder meeting. How prominent was this case? And then, explain, overall, what was happening at the Shell shareholder meeting?
STEVE KRETZMANN: Well, you know, perhaps not surprisingly, this case was not particularly prominent inside the shareholder meeting at all. The primary issue of concern inside the shareholder meeting was the remuneration package for the board of directors and the directors of the company, in particular, which actually the shareholders, interestingly, revolted against. And you had a majority of Shell’s shareholders voting against that package, which is a fairly unheard of thing to have happen. Shell’s directors said that they will take it under advisement and come back and perhaps modify the raises that they’re giving themselves, while, of course, they continue to gas flare in Nigeria. So, you know, the company is continuing on with business as usual and sort of keeping their head in the sand.
You know, I think one of the things that will come out in this trial is you’ll see that their strategy for many years, going back twenty years, has been to starve this issue of oxygen. That’s literally a phrase that comes out of some of the documents that we’ve discovered in the trial. And I think that they’re still trying to do this. They’re trying to not really give it any energy in hopes that it will simply go away. But those of us who knew Ken Saro-Wiwa, those of us who are deeply committed to peace and justice in Nigeria and corporate accountability, are quite determined to not let this issue go away at all.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play a brief clip of a film that we highlighted last week. It’s Sandy Cioffi’s film called Sweet Crude. But this is the section of the documentary where she looks at the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa.
KEN SARO-WIWA: We want freedom!
CROWD: We want freedom!
KEN SARO-WIWA: We want freedom!
CROWD: We want freedom!
KEN SARO-WIWA: Freedom! From today onwards, Shell is declared persona non grata in Ogoni
IBIBA DON PEDRO: The Ogoni struggle issued out of Ogonis like Ken Saro-Wiwa. They decided, you know, to come together to begin to agitate for an end to environmental degradation, for an end to the kind of injustice that exists in a situation where oil comes out of Ogoniland, but Ogoni people are some of the poorest people. Their lands are taken over for oil.
UNIDENTIFIED: The Ogoni Bill of Rights was basically asking for a fair share of the oil revenue. And this was led peacefully, without violence. It was led peacefully, calling for dialogue.
KEN SARO-WIWA: We are going to demand our rights peacefully, nonviolently, and we shall win.
PETER JENNINGS: This may come as a shock. Yesterday, when we decided to choose this man, we knew that his life was in danger. And quite frankly, we hoped that by focusing on his work, we would contribute urgently to people’s understanding of his crisis. We are too late. This morning in Nigeria, as we were preparing this profile, Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged by the military government.
BERNARD SHAW: About twelve hours ago, the military regime in Nigeria executed nine men, including environmentalist and minority rights leader Ken Saro-Wiwa.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: This heinous act offends our values and darkens our hope for democracy in the region. We particularly deplore this action where it was taken despite the pleas of so many governments, including my own. My government is now urgently considering what further steps to take, including action by the Security Council. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED: Ken Saro-Wiwa never carried a gun. He was calling for international attention. He was calling for dialogue. What did they do to him? He was hanged. And every other person who was with him was executed.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Sweet Crude, produced by Sandy Cioffi, who was on Democracy Now! last week.
Steve Kretzmann, on the issue of Ken Saro-Wiwa today, fourteen years later, what do you expect to come from this trial?
STEVE KRETZMANN: Well, we certainly expect justice in terms of greater profile for the issue. But, you know, one thing I really hope comes out of this is the recognition that the struggle that Ken and the Ogoni took up twenty years ago and came to a head fourteen years ago is really the same struggle, the same issues that are going on in Nigeria today.
You had this — the great report last week with Sandy Cioffi, talking about the ongoing violence in the Niger Delta. The Nigerian parliament just approved on Friday a widening of the offensive against the Nigerian villagers who have taken up arms.
And, you know, the causes that they are addressing, what they’re trying to address here are the same things that Ken and the Ogoni and Niger Delta peoples have been trying to address for forty, fifty years: the ongoing flaring of gas, the abject party that the region suffers from despite the fact that billions of dollars of oil wealth have come out of there, the oil spills, etc., etc.
This really has to stop, and we certainly hope that the spotlight that the trial will shine on Nigeria and these issues will finally change this issue once and for all.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Han Shan, what you’re doing now coordinating the outside protests?
HAN SHAN: Well, we’re going to be doing a lot of commentary and providing, hopefully, some insight into what’s actually happening inside the courtroom. We’ll be blogging. We’ll be writing about it on ShellGuilty.com.
And tomorrow, tomorrow, Wednesday at noon in Foley Square, right across from the courthouse, we’re holding a rally at noon where we’ll mark this historic opening of the trial. I mean, for so many people, seeing Ken’s prophecy come true, that in fact Shell would have its day in court, is just critically important. And we want to make sure that we mark this historic day. So, folks in New York and near New York, we hope people will come out for this noontime rally at Foley Square and show respects and also show Shell that people care about this.
And as Steve said, this is happening in Nigeria today. There are still critical issues that Shell has yet to address. And, you know, we have an opportunity, hopefully, to turn up the heat on Shell a bit right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, I want to say we did invite Shell on today’s broadcast. We hope they will join us at a future point. They didn’t today.
Han Shan, coordinator of the ShellGuilty campaign, at shellguilty.com. Steve Kretzmann is executive director of Oil Change International.
We’re going to go to break, and when we come back, we will turn to another oil giant. They’re holding their shareholders’ meeting this week. We’re going to be talking about Chevron. Antonia Juhasz is joining us. She’s just released a report called “The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report.” And a spokesperson for Chevron will be joining us, the head of Latin American operations. Stay with us.