17 October 2011
The Supreme Court has agreed to review a decision by a lower court that denied a hearing on the merits of an infamous “torture suit” against Royal Dutch Shell Plc for its alleged actions in Nigeria at a time when government was violently suppressing citizen protests in the Niger Delta.
Families of seven of the Nigerians executed by the government of Pres. Sani Abacha for organizing against Royal Shell claim that the oil company colluded in torture and paid for weapons and soldiers to end the opposition to oil exploration in the region between 1992 and 1995.
The plaintiffs in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell) were the relatives of playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dr Barinem Kiobel and other Ogoni leaders imprisoned, tortured and executed in the mid-1990s. Their crime was protesting the environmental devastation associated with Shell’s long tenure in the region.
Judge José A. Cabranes of the Manhattan-based federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals, writing for the 2-1 majority, ruled that transnational corporations who participate in gross human rights abuses cannot be held responsible for torture, genocide, war crimes and the like because, as corporations, their activities fall outside the jurisdiction of international law.