Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shells Settles in Saro-Wiwa Case

Royal Dutch Shell, the family of Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, and the families of other activists who died in Nigeria's oil producing region in the late 1990s, have reached a $15.5 million settlement.

The case, which I blogged about on June 7, brings to an end a case featuring allegations that Shell played a role in the deaths of the activists. As part of the settlement, the plaintiffs agreed to move to dismiss all legal claims made against Shell.

The settlement will be shared by 10 plaintiffs, create a trust to benefit the Ogoni people who live in the oil rich but extremely polluted region, and pay the plaintiffs' lawyers' fees.

In commenting on the settlement, Shell said it had "always maintained that the allegations were false. While we were prepared to go to court to clear our name, we believe the right way forward is to focus on the future for Ogoni people, which is important for peace and stability in the region."

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, characterized the settlement as a "victory."

Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr., the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa said, “In reaching this settlement, we were very much aware that we are not the only Ogonis who have suffered in our struggle with Shell, which is why we insisted on creating the Kiisi Trust.”

Perhaps this is a just and reasonable settlement. But the difficult issue of how natural resources firms can best operate in the communities where they work remains a perplexing one. And the issue of the Nigerian government's complicity -- or not -- in the whole matter also remains unresolved.

For a country so extremely rich in natural resources, oil has often brought pollution, violence, and destruction. The "curse of oil" some have called it.

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