/ 1 June 2009

New delay hits human rights suit against Shell

A pre-trial conference scheduled in the potentially landmark lawsuit brought by Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has been delayed until Wednesday, court papers show.

The conference was announced last week following the decision by the presiding judge in the United States Southern District Court in New York to delay indefinitely the actual trial. It had been planned for Monday, but now has been pushed back two days.

”The court hereby postpones the conference scheduled … until Wednesday,” Judge Kimba Wood said in an order dated Friday. She gave no explanation.

Jury selection in the trial itself had been scheduled to start April 27, but was put off the day before. No new date was set.

The judge then scheduled the pre-trial conference, which has now also been delayed.

A spokesperson for the Centre for Constitutional Rights, which represents the Nigerian plaintiffs, told Agence France-Presse there was no further indication about the future of the trial. The spokesperson would not comment on the reasons for the delay.

Shell is accused of complicity in the 1995 hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a renowned writer and activist, and other leaders of a movement protesting alleged environmental destruction and other abuses by Shell against the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta.

The corporation, which has a powerful presence in Nigeria, is also accused of complicity in the torture, detention and exile of Saro-Wiwa’s brother, Owens Wiwa, and other violent attacks on dissidents in the country.

Shell denies all the charges.

The civil suit was brought by victims of Nigeria’s former military government, including Saro-Wiwa’s son.

They sued under the Alien Tort Claims Act, a little-used US law that dates to 1789 and which is being increasingly dusted off as a way to target human rights violations in foreign countries.

The Act requires companies with a substantial presence in the US to obey US law everywhere in the world. — Sapa-AFP