The oil giant Shell has avoided a potentially embarassing court proceeding by agreeing to pay $15.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging complicity in murder, torture and other abuses by Nigeria's former military government.
The settlement comes after a more than decade-long legal battle by relatives of Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and others executed in 1995 after trial in a military court. Saro-Wiwa was leading a non-violent protest against Shell accusing the company for environmental destruction and abuses of the Ogoni people.
The lawsuit brought by US-based human rights lawyers and activists on behlaf of the victims' families said the repression of activists by the then military rulers of Nigeria was backed by Shell.
The lawyers used a relatively unknown US law called Alien Tort Claims Act, 1789 which allows non-U.S. citizens to file suits in U.S. courts for international human rights violations, and the Torture Victim Protection Act, under which individuals can seek damages in the U.S. for torture or extrajudicial killing, regardless of where the violations take place.
Shell denies all accusations and says it decided to settle the case on humanitarian grounds. The company said: "While we were prepared to go to court to clear our name, we believe the right way forward is to focus on the future for Ogoni people. We believe this settlement will assist the process of reconciliation and peace in Ogoni land, which is our primary concern."
The settlement however is likely to encourage many more such lawsuits against multinational companies which operate in countries ruled by repressive regimes.
A full story on the Shell saga is in the current issue of Ethical Corporation magazine here.