- Internal company documents suggest oil giant Shell was involved in human rights abuses in Ogoniland in Nigeria in the 1990s.
- Protests against Shell’s production in the region led to violent military intervention. Shell allegedly supported the military financially, n the knowledge such support could lead to human rights abuses.
- Amnesty International is calling for a criminal investigation into Shell’s role during the Ogoni crisis.
LONDON – A cache of thousands of internal documents suggests Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell’s complicity in crimes committed by the Nigerian military in the 1990s, according to Amnesty International.
Shell repeatedly called for military intervention against peaceful protests in the oil-producing Ogoniland region, Amnesty said, and was aware this was likely to prompt human rights abuses. Amnesty is now calling on Nigeria, the UK and the Netherlands to begin criminal investigations into Shell’s role in the crimes.
“Shell repeatedly encouraged the Nigerian military to deal with community protests, even when it knew the horrors this would lead to – unlawful killings, rape, torture, the burning of villages,” said Audrey Gaughran, director of global issues at Amnesty.
“In the midst of this brutal crackdown Shell even provided the military with material support, including transport, and in at least one instance paid a military commander notorious for human rights violations. That it has never answered for this is an outrage,” she said.
Shell denied any wrongdoing. In response to Amnesty’s allegations, Shell said:
“The allegations cited in your letter against [Royal Dutch Shell] and [Shell Nigeria] are false and without merit. [Shell Nigeria] did not collude with the military authorities to suppress community unrest and in no way encouraged or advocated any acts of violence in Nigeria. In fact, the company believes that dialogue is the best way to resolve disputes. We have always denied these allegations, in the strongest possible terms.”
In response to Business Insider, Shell said:
“We have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made in this tragic case. The executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogonis in 1995 were tragic events that were carried out by the military government in power at the time. We were shocked and saddened when we heard the news of the executions. Shell appealed to the Nigerian government to grant clemency. To our deep regret, that appeal, and the appeals made by many others within and outside Nigeria, went unheard.
“Support for human rights in line with the legitimate role of business is fundamental to Shell’s core values of honesty, integrity and respect for people. Amnesty International’s allegations concerning SPDC are false and without merit. SPDC did not collude with the authorities to suppress community unrest and in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria. We believe that the evidence will show clearly that Shell was not responsible for these tragic events.”
The Ogoni crisis
The Movement for Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) began campaigning in 1990 for greater control over their land, and protesting against environmental damage caused by oil production. Shell temporarily stopped production in the region in 1993, and allegedly requested military assistance.
Violence perpetrated by the Nigerian military in an effort to stop the protests escalated until 1995. The military campaign culminated in the execution of nine Ogoni men in 1995, including MOSOP President Ken Saro-Wiwa, following a trial Amnesty has branded “blatantly unfair.”
Based on internal Shell documents and witness statements, released as part of US legal proceedings, it is “indisputable” that Shell played a “key role” in the violations, said Gaughran.
Internal company documents
According to Amnesty’s report, internal memos and minutes from meetings show how Shell lobbied senior Nigerian government officials for military support during the Ogoni crisis, even after security forces had carried out mass killings of protesters.
Documents show Shell provided logistical or financial assistance to the military and police on several occasions, while aware they had been involved in attacks on villagers, Amnesty said.
On October 29 1990, Shell allegedly requested “security protection” from an elite paramilitary police unit in Umuechem village, where peaceful protests were taking place. A massacre followed, in which at least 80 people were killed.
“From at least this point on, Shell executives would have understood the risks associated with calling for intervention from the security forces. Despite this, there is clear evidence that Shell continued to do just that,” says the report.
According to Amnesty, one document shows Shell making a payment in March 1994 of $909 to a special military unit, ISTF, to “restore order” in Ogoniland. This came ten days after the unit’s commander ordered the shooting of unarmed protestors outside Shell’s regional headquarters in Port Harcourt.
An internal Shell memo allegedly described the payment as a “show of gratitude and motivation for a sustained favourable disposition towards [Shell] in future assignments.”
Later that year, the ISTF carried out raids on Ogoni villages, “killing, raping, torturing and detaining people,” according to the report. Documents allegedly show the Dutch ambassador told Shell in July 1994 the army had killed some 800 Ogonis.
Trial and execution
According to Amnesty, documents show Brian Anderson, Shell’s then-Chairperson in Nigeria, had at least three meetings with General Sani Abacha at the height of the Ogoni crisis. In April 1994, Anderson allegedly raised “the problem of the Ogonis and Ken Saro-Wiwa” in a meeting, highlighting the economic consequences of MOSOP’s protests.
He allegedly came away from the meeting with a sense that Abacha “will intervene with either the military or the police.”
Within a month, Saro-Wiwa and other MOSOP leaders were arrested, and were executed in November 1995.
According to Amnesty, Shell “knew that it was highly likely that Ken Saro-Wiwa would be found guilty and executed.”
“In his final words to the tribunal that convicted him, Ken Saro-Wiwa warned that Shell would face its own day in court,” said Gaughran. “We are determined to make this happen.”
“It is difficult not to see causal links”
Amnesty alleges Shell’s directors based in The Hague and London were also aware of what was occurring in Nigeria.
“It is difficult not to see causal links – or to suppose that Shell was not aware at the time how its requests were being interpreted,” said Gaughran. “Sometimes Shell played a more direct role in the bloodshed – for example, by transporting armed forces to break up protests, even when it became clear what the consequences would be,” she said.
“We will not be preparing a criminal file to submit to the relevant authorities, with a view to prosecution,” she said.
In June this year, the widows of four of the executed men filed a writ against Shell in the Netherlands, accusing the company of complicity in their deaths.
Business Insider has approached Shell for comment.
In October, Italian prosecutors requested to charge four former Shell executives over an alleged $1.1 billion bribery scheme in Nigeria in 2011.