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Shell Sued in New York Over Hangings of Nigerian Activists

November 9, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ One year after Nigeria’s military government hanged nine dissidents, relatives of two of the men have filed a lawsuit charging oil giant Royal Dutch Shell with complicity in the executions.

Playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other members of Nigeria’s minority Ogoni group were executed on Nov. 10, 1995 after being convicted by a military tribunal of murdering four political rivals.

The lawsuit filed Friday accuses Shell of wrongful death and human rights violations and claims Shell officials met with Nigerian military leaders ``to discuss strategies concerning the unlawful execution″ of Saro-Wiwa.

The nine men said they had been framed because of their opposition to Gen. Sani Abacha’s government and Nigeria’s oil industry.

They had campaigned on behalf of the 500,000 Ogoni people in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern states who say their land and water are being destroyed by oil industry pollution.

The lawsuit charges that the executions ``were carried out with the knowledge, consent and/or support of defendants Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Shell Transport and Trading Company.″ It seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Eric Nickson, a spokesman for Shell in London, said he had not reviewed the lawsuit and could not comment. Nickson has said previously that Shell was ``not involved in the government of Nigeria other than on a commercial basis.″

Following the executions, the United States and other Western nations recalled their ambassadors from Nigeria, and human rights activists urged a boycott of Shell, which began oil exploration in Ogoni 40 years ago.

In addition to the executions, the lawsuit accuses Shell of human rights violations including torture, summary execution and arbitrary arrest and detention.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Saro-Wiwa’s son, Ken Wiwa, and his brother, Owens Wiwa, along with Blessing Kpuinen, the widow of one of the other executed activists, John Kpuinen.