The District Court of The Hague Wednesday rejected a suit brought by four Nigerian widows against oil giant Shell for allegedly helping corrupt witnesses testifying against their late husbands, who were executed in 1995 by the Nigerian government following protests against Shell’s exploitation of the Niger Delta.
In 1995, former military ruler Sani Abacha executed the husbands of Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo, and Charity Levula, along with five other protesters. The nine activists have become known as the Ogoni Nine and included writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, John Kpuine, and Saturday Dobee. Their deaths followed when the Nigerian government brutally cracked down on peaceful protests by the Ogoni people who opposed the oil giant’s exploitation of oil resources and destruction of land in Ogoniland.
The four widows sued Shell for the company’s alleged involvement in the arrest, detention, prosecution, and execution of their husbands. They sought to hold Shell responsible in Hague after exhausting legal possibilities in Nigeria, following the Dutch court ruling it had jurisdiction to hear their case in 2019.
Five witnesses testified to the court. Some stated that they had been coached to incriminate the defendants and had been paid by Shell representatives in return. However, the Dutch court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support the widow’s accusations that Shell was involved in bribing witnesses relating to their husbands’ case. The court therefore ruled that Shell could not be held liable.
Shell has denied any wrongdoing or involvement.
In 2009, a $15.5 million settlement was reached between Shell and the families of the nine activists who were executed. In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a verdict in favor of Shell in a case brought by the families of the nine activists, on the basis that the Alien Tort Claims Act did not apply to corporations.