Pressure is mounting on William Hague after the UK government attempted to block a US lawsuit against Shell for its human rights violations in Nigeria. Kiobel v Shell alleges that Shell aided and abetted human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed by the Nigerian military against the minority Ogoni people of the Niger Delta from 1992 onwards. The US government intervened in support of the Ogoni claimants, but the UK and Dutch governments sided with Shell. Campaigners are calling on the UK to reverse its position.

Last week The Financial Times covered Amnesty International's concerns over the move and the Sunday Times reported:

In a letter to Hague last week, Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said the FCO's move "runs dangerously counter to the stated aims of your department and its professed commitment to … human rights".

Platform has joined the range of organisations including Liberty, Amnesty International UK, CORE, MOSOP and EarthRights International who have condemned the UK's hypocrisy in this case. Campaigners are calling on the UK to retract its support for Shell. Ogoni activist group MOSOP stated this week that:

MOSOP President/Spokesman, Dr. Goodluck Diigbo has described British Prime David Cameron's government amicus brief in the Ogoni case of Kiobel v Shell in the United States of America as dangerous, ill-advised and short-sighted colonial tactics.

The UK's intervention in Kiobel v Shell is highly regrettable and illustrates a much wider systemic problem. Last week Platform submitted a detailed briefing to the UK Foreign Affairs Committee arguing that British business interests promoted by the FCO often contradict and undermine democracy and human rights. Platform argues there is a glaring contradiction between the governments stated commitment to human rights and its support for oil companies in Nigeria, the Arctic, Egypt and elsewhere.

Background:

On 28 February 2012, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kiobel v Shell. The court is due to hold another hearing in late 2012.

The UK and the Netherlands, Shell’s two home governments, submitted a joint amicus brief to the Supreme Court urging the rejection of the Kiobel lawsuit. In short, they argued that corporations should not be held liable for violations of international law.[1] In contrast, the Obama government submitted a brief in support of the claimants. For a heartfelt explanation of why the UK got it wrong, you may be interested to read Katie Redford of EarthRights International writing in the Huffington Post.

Ben Amunwa from Platform said:

"If the UK’s arguments in Kiobel were accepted, this would remove one of the few judicial remedies available to the victims of corporate human rights abuses and grant global impunity to companies who commit such wrongs. Global campaign groups are calling on the UK to retract its Kiobel brief.

Amunwa added: "The UK’s intervention is made more inappropriate as Shell continues to rely heavily on government forces in Nigeria who have perpetrated systematic human rights abuses and extrajudicial killing. Shell has made routine payments to armed youth groups responsible for inter-communal conflict, as documented in Platform’s report, 'Counting the Cost: corporations and human rights abuses in the Niger Delta'. The FCO should be seeking to curb these practices rather than defending business interests at the expense of human rights."


[1]           See AMICI CURIAE IN SUPPORT OF THE RESPONDENTS, http://ccrjustice.org/files/2012.02%20UK%20Govt%20et%20al%20Amicus%20Brief%20.pdf, p 7.