Wiwa v. Shell
In 1996, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Earth Rights International filed a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell for complicity in human rights abuses against the Ogoni people in Nigeria. Ultimately, Shell settled in 2009 for a total of $15.5 million.
Shell has pursued oil and gas projects in the Niger delta since the 1950's. The legacy of Shell's presence in the Niger Delta has been environmental devastation and human suffering.
In the 1990's a popular movement of the Ogoni people began to push back against Shell's impacts in the Niger delta. The Nigerian military, paid to serve as security for Shell, responded to these protests with violence.
Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders of the Ogoni movement were arrested by the Nigerian military. They were tortured and ultimately and hanged in 1995. They became known as the Ogoni Nine.
The following year, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Earth Rights International, the surviving family members of the Ogoni Nine, and other victims of military violence against the Ogoni filed a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York under the Alien Tort Statute, a law dating to 1789 which grants United States district courts original jurisdiction of "any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."
Relevant Law and Principles
The case resulted in a decision from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals which found that corporate actors could be liable for abuses committed by the Nigerian government and military.
On the eve of trial in June 2009, Shell agreed to settle the lawsuits for a total of $15.5 million. The settlement provided compensation to the plaintiffs and established a trust for the benefit of the Ogoni people.