Four Nigerian women on Tuesday launched a court case in the Netherlands against oil giant Shell for alleged complicity in the execution of their husbands by the military regime in the 1990s.
The civil case has been brought by Esther Kiobel — the widow of Barinem Kiobel who was hanged in 1995 along with writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and seven others — and is backed by Amnesty International.
“My husband had a good heart. Now I am a poor widow who has lost everything,” Esther Kiobel was quoted as telling the court in The Hague by Dutch news agency ANP.
“The abuses that my family and I went through were a horrible experience that has traumatised us to this day,” added Kiobel, who fled Nigeria in 1998 and now lives in the United States.
Kiobel and one of the other widows were in court for opening arguments. The other two women whose husbands were killed were denied visas to attend.
Kiobel added in a statement issued through Amnesty that “over the years, Shell has continually fought to make sure this case is not heard in court. They have the resources to fight me instead of doing justice for my husband.”
The Dutch court writ alleges that Shell helped in the arrest of the men, who had sought to peacefully disrupt oil development in the Ogoni region because of health and environmental impacts.
Saro-Wiwa, president and founder of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), and eight fellow activists were executed on November 10, 1995 after a military tribunal convicted them of the murder of four traditional Ogoni chiefs.
“These women believe that their husbands would still be alive today were it not for the brazen self-interest of Shell, which encouraged the Nigerian government’s bloody crackdown on protesters even when it knew the human cost,” Amnesty’s Mark Dummett said.
Shell denies all involvement in the men’s executions.
“The executions carried out by a military government at that time have deeply affected us,” a spokesman for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited said.
Shell said it had urged the Nigerian presidency to grant leniency “and we regret that no response was given.”
The Ogoni movement was set up in 1990 to fight against pollution and the destruction of the ecosystem of the 500,000-strong Ogoni community, which lives on an oil-rich parcel of land on the northern edge of the Niger Delta.
The executions provoked a global outcry and led to the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth. The west African country was re-admitted with the return of civilian rule in 1999.