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June 8, 2009 8:23 PM

Shell Agrees to $15.5 Million Settlement in Nigeria Case

Posted by Ed Shanahan

By Mark Fass from the New York Law Journal

On the eve of trial, Royal Dutch Shell late Monday agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle claims that the company, a subsidiary, and the head of the company's Nigerian operations were complicit in the 1995 abuse and hanging of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists protesting the environmental impact of oil drilling in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta.

The funds will compensate the ten individual plaintiffs, establish a trust intended to benefit the Ogoni people, and cover a portion of plaintiffs' legal fees and costs.

Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.
, 96 Civ. 8386, represented an unusual attempt to use the Alien Tort Claims Act to hold a foreign corporation liable in a U.S. court for human rights abuses overseas.

In an e-mailed statement, Judith Chomsky, cooperating attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, said, "The fortitude shown by our clients in the 13-year struggle to hold Shell accountable has helped establish a principle that goes beyond Shell and Nigeria--that corporations, no matter how powerful, will be held to universal human rights standards."

The settlement does not resolve ongoing claims by the Ogoni people, who negotiated separately. Shell, which continues to operate in Nigeria, has insisted that the former Nigerian military government was responsible for the executions that were carried out despite its pleas for clemency. It did not acknowledge any wrongdoing but said it agreed to settle the lawsuit in hopes of aiding the "process of reconciliation."

"This gesture also acknowledges that, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered," Malcolm Brinded, Shell's executive director of  exploration and production, said in a statement.

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