WIWA v. SHELL:
On June 8 multinational oil giant
Royal Dutch Shell
agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that it conspired in human rights abuses in Nigeria. The suit was brought by the family of
, an activist who was hanged by a military regime in 1995 after protesting Shell’s environmental practices in the Niger Delta. Filed under the 1789
Alien Tort Claims Act
, the lawsuit charged that Shell asked Nigeria’s dictatorship to help silence Saro-Wiwa and paid and equipped soldiers who attacked his Ogoni community. The settlement recalls Saro-Wiwa’s last statement. “Shell is here on trial,” he wrote. “The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.”
In 2004 the Supreme Court affirmed that the Alien Tort Claims Act authorizes foreign victims of serious, narrowly defined violations of international law to sue for compensation in US federal courts. These claims may be brought against non-state actors, including multinational corporations. So far no corporation has been found guilty, and Shell becomes only the third to settle a case filed under the statute and the first to disclose the terms of its settlement to the public.
The settlement does little to address the environmental devastation that continues to plague the Niger Delta, and it represents a drop in the bucket for Shell, which earned a record $31.4 billion in profits last year. But the Wiwa family is celebrating a global paradigm that has developed from their thirteen years of legal struggle. “Multinationals now know that a precedent has been set,” said
Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr.
, the son of the slain activist. “Corporations will have to be much more careful.” SASHA CHAVKIN
won Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary on June 9 as much because of who he wasn’t as who he was. He wasn’t
, the cocky consummate Washington insider who raised a zillion dollars for the Clintons. He wasn’t
, the longtime delegate from Alexandria with a brother in Congress, a team of high-profile political consultants (including
) and a Massachusetts accent he never could shed. In a race that was billed as insider versus outsider, Clinton versus Obama, there was a lot of old politics but not much new. Neither McAuliffe nor Moran could credibly claim to be reformist outsiders. Moran ran a tepid, traditional campaign bereft of excitement. McAuliffe brought his trademark (if not infectious) enthusiasm to the race but blew a big lead.
Deeds benefited from being Mr. Anonymous, a longtime state senator from rural Bath County known most prominently for owning a donkey named Harry S. Truman. He won the Washington Post‘s last-minute endorsement and rode the momentum as the “anybody but Brian and Terry” candidate. He’s a mixed bag–economically populist, conservative on guns, open to offshore drilling and coal mining, prochoice and pro-death penalty.
The victories of
in 2001 and ’05 helped put Virginia on the map at a time when Democrats struggled nationally. “Ol’ Virginny is dead,” Kaine proclaimed after Obama carried the state. But now the Republicans have finally fielded an attractive candidate in Attorney General
, a law-and-order conservative who will make a play for the middle. McDonnell beat Deeds by 360 votes in the 2005 attorney general race. Pundits will proclaim the national significance of this race, but neither candidate is particularly compelling or charismatic. An Ali-Frazier rematch this is not. ARI BERMAN
FREE LEE AND LING:
On June 8 two reporters for San Francisco-based Current TV,
, were convicted by North Korea’s top court of an undefined “grave crime” against the state and sentenced to twelve years in a labor camp. The two were arrested on March 17 near the Chinese border, where they were reportedly investigating the trafficking of women. North Koreans who receive similar sentences of “reform through labor” often face starvation and torture. “These places have very high rates of deaths in detention,” said North Korea watcher
in the Chicago Tribune. According to Hawk, many of the camps are affiliated with mines or textile factories, where long work shifts are often followed by self-criticism sessions and forced memorization of North Korean Communist doctrine.
But Hawk and other experts believe the pair will escape the worst of fates because of the international spotlight. After the verdict, the White House said that it is using “all possible channels” to secure Lee and Ling’s release. Greatly complicating matters, however, is the dismal state of US-North Korean relations. North Korea is in the midst of a succession in leadership, and in May it detonated a nuclear bomb. Consequently, Lee and Ling have become prize chips in a high-stakes poker game. The key to securing their release seems to rest in de-linking the humanitarian issue of their detention from the broader questions raised by North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. A petition calling for their immediate release is available at thepetitionsite.com/1/free-euna-and-laura. PETER ROTHBERG
DORIS SHAFFER REMEMBERED:
A cherished member of the Nation family,
, died peacefully on June 2 in her Manhattan home at the age of 80. The daughter of a leather goods worker and an elementary teacher, Doris was a founding member of the ACLU’s Nassau chapter, obtained her MA in history from New York University and taught history at
Nassau Community College
for twenty-eight years. She married fellow student activist
in 1949. Together they helped form the
Great Neck Committee for Human Rights
, which opened up all-white housing to African-Americans in 1961. Doris was also the president of the college’s faculty union from 1973 to ’87, during which it gained a reputation for winning model contracts with public colleges, negotiated higher salaries, protected academic freedom, fought for merit-based hiring, defended controversial courses and included sexual orientation in the contracts’ nondiscrimination clause. Doris and Don were active members of the Nation‘s Circle of 100 partners. More recently, Doris played a pivotal role in the development of
The Nation Institute
and, among other things, provided the
, held by
. We mourn the loss of our old friend and extend condolences to her family.