[JURIST] Judges for the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Friday upheld [opinion, PDF] a verdict in favor of Royal Dutch Shell PLC [corporate website] in a case brought by families of Nigerian protesters who were executed [UNHCR backgrounder] by the previous Nigerian government in 1995 for speaking out against the oil company. The court ruled that the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) [text] does not apply to corporations, relieving Shell of liability for alleged complicity in human rights abuses in Nigeria. The plaintiffs had accused Shell of enlisting Nigerian military forces to help stop protests in the country, resulting in the violation of human rights [Dow Jones report] among the Ogoni people. Judge Pierre Leval concurred only in the judgment and stated in a separate opinion:
The majority opinion deals a substantial blow to international law and its undertaking to protect fundamental human rights. According to the rule my colleagues have created, one who earns profits by commercial exploitation of abuse of fundamental human rights can successfully shield those profits from victims’ claims for compensation simply by taking the precaution of conducting the heinous operation in the corporate form. Without any support in either the precedents or the scholarship of international law, the majority take the position that corporations, and other juridical entities, are not subject to international law, and for that reason such violators of fundamental human rights are free to retain any profits so earned without liability to their victims.
Shell previously reached a $15.5 million settlement [JURIST report] in 2009 with the families of the protesters. Shell did not admit any wrongdoing in the deaths of the nine activists, which included Ken Saro-Wiwa, a well-known Nigerian activist and writer. Saro-Wiwa founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People [advocacy website], an organization that is credited with assisting in ceasing oil production in Ogoniland.
Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a jury verdict clearing Chevron [corporate website] of wrongdoing in the 1998 deaths of two protesters occupying a Nigerian oil platform operated by the company. Protesters Arolika Irowarinun and Bola Oyinbo were killed in May 1998 on Parabe Oil Platform and several others were injured when Nigerian government security forces, called in by Chevron Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of Chevron, opened fire on the protesters. The families of Irowarinun and Oyinbo, as well as several injured protesters, subsequently filed a lawsuit under the ATCA, and Nigerian and California law. The appellate court ruled that there were no errors in jury instructions given by the trial court, the trial court properly dismissed the Alien Tort Act claims for wrongful death and survival and the Torture Victims Protection Act [text] does not apply to corporations.