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.