The civil suit filed against Shell in the Netherlands for its alleged complicity in the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists by the Nigerian government has taken an interesting turn, as lawyers to the oil giant are being accused of refusing to hand over evidence said to be critical to the case.
The nine men, popularly referred to as ‘Ogoni Nine’ were executed in 1995 by Nigeria’s military regime under controversial circumstances.
The widows of four of the men, led by Esther Kiobel, are the plaintiffs in the case which was first filed in 2001 in the U.S.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, without hearing the substance of the case, had ruled that the U.S. did not have jurisdiction.
The widows filed the lawsuit in the Netherlands on June 28.
An international human rights NGO, Amnesty International, said in a statement Friday that the U.S. law firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, has refused to hand over more than 100,000 internal documents considered crucial to the case.
The Amnesty International directly accused Shell of trying to prevent the release of vital information.
Shell’s lawyers, according to the NGO, have appealed against the judgment of a U.S. federal court which ordered Shell to turn over the documents.
An Appeal Court in New York is said to be set to hear the first appeal on September 12.
“Shell has gone to extraordinary lengths to withhold this critical information,” said Audrey Gaughran, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International.
“Because the documents in question are so old, it is highly unlikely that there are legitimate business reasons for keeping them confidential. So, what does Shell have to hide?” Ms. Gaughran said.
“Having reviewed the available evidence, Amnesty International believes that Shell was complicit in putting the Ogoni Nine at the mercy of a government it knew to be serial human rights abuser.
“Given the seriousness of the allegations, it is vital that Shell releases the rest of the information. It cannot be allowed to hide behind expensive legal teams and sleights of hand to avoid facing justice,” she said.
Mrs. Kiobel is represented in the proceedings by EarthRights International, an international human rights and environmental justice NGO.
Shell has denied complicity in the killing of the Ogoni Nine.
A number of groups have pursued in recent years cases against Shell in courts in the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands over claims related to oil spills and environmental damage, claiming they cannot get a fair hearing in Nigeria.
The Ogoni Nine were a group of nine activists from the Ogoni region of Nigeria. They were led by outspoken author and playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, who had previously been a critic of the Royal Dutch Shell oil corporation, and had been imprisoned for a year prior to the executions in November 1995.
Others are Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine.
They were executed by hanging in 1995 by the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha and buried in Port Harcourt Cemetery.
The executions provoked international condemnation and led to the increasing treatment of Nigeria as a pariah state until Mr. Abacha’s death in 1998.
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