Last week, a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Company blocked relatives of murdered activists from the Niger Delta from bringing a case against Shell in the US using the Alien Tort Statute. Not only does this ruling prevent the families from seeking justice but it may also shield multinational companies from future US lawsuits over atrocities overseas.
In coming to terms with this news, I thought it was fitting to upload the original press coverage of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death that Platform has in its possession following its return from being exhibited in Spain.
Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International director of Law and Policy had this to say about the judgement:
It’s especially critical that multinational companies and other actors who are able to operate freely across borders are not shielded from the law’s reach. In fact, they often benefit from the protection of laws that apply extraterritorially. But when survivors of abuses try to pursue justice beyond borders, they encounter formidable obstacles. Today’s decision closes the courthouse doors for many…The Supreme Court has effectively put the law on the side of human rights abusers, adding to survivors’ already difficult pursuit of accountability.
Shell denies complicity in the torture and murder of the activists in 1995, including the writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. However, the company has fought to prevent any legal proceedings linking them to the murders coming to court and into the public domain. In 2009, Shell settled a similar case, Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., for $15.5million without admitting liability.
Shell had their position in the Kiobel case bolstered by the UK Government. FOI requests obtained by The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition, a group of human rights, development and environmental NGOs, show that in February 2012 the UK government submitted a brief to the US Supreme Court on the side of Shell. The UK Government’s intervention on behalf of Shell was at odds with the position of the US Government and, according to Lisa Nandy MP Chair APPG on International Corporate Responsibility, was also “at odds with its commitment to human rights.” She also refers to the Foreign Affair Select Committees assertion that “there is an unresolved debate about the extent to which vigorous promotion of trading opportunities for the UK can co-exist with the UK’s drive to promote its human rights values around the world.”
Despite the on-going suffering of the people of the Niger Delta, the memory of activists like Ken Saro-Wiwa continue to inspire those fighting for justice and resisting oil companies such as Shell.
Following the 10th anniversary of his murder, Platform worked with Nigerian born artist Sokari Douglas Camp and the Wiwa family to construct a living memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa. This film below documents the launch of the memorial at the Bernie Grant Centre in Tottenham. In a speech at the launch, Ken’s widow Maria quotes Milan Kundera when she says, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Shell may sometimes have the power and influence to silence its opponents but it can’t make people forget what happened. As Maria says, remembering is part of the fight.