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Shell Sued Over Hangings of Nigerian Activists

November 9, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ One year after playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other oil industry opponents were hanged by Nigeria’s military government, heirs filed a lawsuit Friday accusing Royal Dutch Shell of complicity in the deaths.

Shell, a major driller of Nigeria’s oil-rich Ogoni region, is accused in the lawsuit of meeting with the military leaders of the West African nation ``to discuss strategies concerning the unlawful execution of Saro-Wiwa.″

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 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 who say their land and water are being destroyed by oil industry pollution.

Following the executions, the United States and other Western nations recalled their ambassadors from Nigeria, and human rights activists urged a boycott of Shell.

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.″

The lawsuit accusing Shell of wrongful death and human rights violations seeks unspecified damages. It was filed in federal court in Manhattan because Shell does business in the United States and is subject to the jurisdiction of its courts, said plaintiff’s attorney Judith Chomsky.

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

``This is a classic case of the methods used by multinationals to those who challenge them,″ said plaintiff Owens Wiwa, Saro-Wiwa’s brother. ``Taking Shell to court is one of many nonviolent methods of struggle against the company’s role in the human rights and environmental devastation of Ogoni.″

Other plaintiffs included Saro-Wiwa’s son, Ken Wiwa and Blessing Kpuinen, the widow of one of the other executed activists, John Kpuinen.