This report is an exploration of human rights violations related to oil exploration and production in the Niger Delta, and of the role and responsibilities of the major multinational oil companies in respect of those violations. The Niger Delta has for some years been the site of major confrontations between the people who live there and the Nigerian government security forces, resulting in extra-judicial executions, arbitrary detentions, and draconian restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. These violations of civil and political rights have been committed principally in response to protests about the activities of the multinational companies that produce Nigeria’s oil. Although the June 1998 death of former head of state Gen. Sani Abacha and his succession by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar has brought a significant relaxation in the unprecedented repression General Abacha inflicted on the Nigerian people, and General Abubakar appears committed to ensuring the installation of an elected civilian government in May 1999, human rights abuses in the oil producing communities continue and the basic situation in the delta remains unchanged. As this report went to press, the fatal shooting by security forces of tens of youths demonstrating for the oil companies to withdraw from Nigeria was reported, and the deployment of large numbers of soldiers and navy to the delta to suppress such protests.
Since the death of Abacha, there has been a surge in incidents in which protesters have occupied flow stations and closed production or taken oil workers hostage. In the context of increasing threats to the safety of their workers and of damage to their property, oil companies legitimately require security for their personnel and property; but equally there is an even greater need for companies to ensure that such protection does not result in further human rights abuses. The oil companies share a responsibility to oppose human rights violations by government forces in the areas in which they operate, in addition to preventing abuses by their own employees or contractors. Companies have a duty to avoid both complicity in and advantage from human rights abuses, and a company that fails to speak out when authorities responding to corporate requests for security protection commit human rights abuses will be complicit in those abuses.
Human Rights Watch traveled to the Niger Delta in 1997 to investigate human rights violations in connection with the suppression of protest at oil company activities. We found repeated incidents in which people were brutalized for attempting to raise grievances with the companies; in some cases security forces threatened, beat, and jailed members of community delegations even before they presented their cases. Such abuses often occurred on or adjacent to companyproperty, or in the immediate aftermath of meetings between company officials and individual claimants or community representatives. Many local people seemed to be the object of repression simply for putting forth an interpretation of a compensation agreement, or for seeking effective compensation for land ruined or livelihood lost.
We subsequently corresponded with the five multinationals with the largest share of Nigerian production, asking them to comment on our findings about particular incidents at their facilities, as well as their approach to human rights and community relations in general and their relationships with the Nigerian authorities in respect of security and other issues. This correspondence has continued during 1998. The most ample responses were received from Shell, a Dutch-British company, which has faced the most high profile international focus on its responsibilities in Nigeria. Responses on several cases were also received from Chevron and general information was provided by Mobil: both companies have faced pressure in the U.S., where they are based, concerning corporate responsibility in Nigeria. Elf, headquartered in France, answered most of our questions, though it avoided some, without giving much detail or taking the opportunity to provide background information on its operations; while Agip, an Italian state-owned company, provided an uninformative two page general response to our inquiries and failed to answer many questions. The difficulty that Human Rights Watch, a well known international organization with access to the press worldwide, has had in getting several of the oil companies to pay attention to its concerns appears to be representative of their response to local communities.
In many cases, even where they did respond in connection with particular incidents, companies denied knowledge of government attacks on individuals protesting company action or inaction, or sought to justify security force measures as appropriate responses to threats to company personnel or property. Most of the companies cited in the report failed publicly to criticize security force abuses related to their operations. There were also cases in which witnesses reported that company staff directly threatened, or were present when security force officers threatened communities with retaliation if there were disruption to oil production.
The Role and Responsibilities of the International Oil Companies
The multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria face a difficult political and economic environment, both nationally and at the level of the oil producing communities where their facilities are located. Successive governments have misspent the oil wealth which the oil companies have helped to unlock, salting it away in foreign bank accounts rather than investing in education, health, and other social investment, and mismanaging the national economy to the point of collapse. At the same time, the government has in the past failed to fund its share of the joint ventures operated by the multinationals, and has played the different oil companies against each other so that it has not been easy—even for Shell, the industry giant—to insist that the government contribute towards the investment needed to keep the industry functioning. At the community level, the companies are faced with increasing protests directed at oil company activities and the lack of development in the delta; these have included incidents of hostage-taking, closures of flow stations, sabotage, and intimidation of staff. While the political environment has improved for the oil majors with the death of General Abacha and the succession to the presidency of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, it is unclear what the position will be with the scheduled inauguration of a civilian government in June 1999, and unlikely that relations between the multinationals and the Nigerian government, military or civilian, will ever be entirely smooth.
Acknowledging the difficult context of oil operations in Nigeria does not, however, absolve the oil companies from a share of responsibility for the human rights abuses taking place in the Niger Delta: whether by action or omission they play a role.
In countries characterized by severe human rights violations, like Nigeria, corporations often justify their presence by arguing that their operations will enhance respect for rights, but then adopt no substantive measures to achieve that end. Corporations doing business in these states take on a special obligation to implement proactive steps to promote respect for rights and to ensure that they do not become complicit in violations. The dominant position of the oil companies in Nigeria brings with it a special responsibility in this regard to monitor and promote respect for human rights. Given the overwhelming role of oil in the Nigerian national economy, the policies and practices of the oil companies are important factors in the decision making of the Nigerian government. Because the oil companies are operating joint ventures with the government they have constant opportunities to influence government policy, including with respect to the provision of security for the oil facilities and other issues in the oil producing regions. All the oil companies operating in Nigeria share this responsibility to promote respect for human rights.
In addition to these general responsibilities, the oil companies operating in Nigeria have specific responsibilities in respect of the human rights violations that take place in connection with their operations. These responsibilities must be seen against the context of oil production in Nigeria and the fact that the security provided to keep the oil flowing benefits both the Nigerian government and the oil companies, since disputes which threaten production affect the revenue of both.
Many of the cases investigated by Human Rights Watch which have led to security force abuses concern claims that oil companies have not abided by environmental standards or provided compensation in accordance with the law for damage resulting from oil exploration and production. Other cases concern claims that the oil multinationals have not provided compensation which community members believe to be due to the traditional landholders, although the realities of the Nigerian legal system make it difficult to establish or enforce such an obligation. Often, the Nigerian government effectively entrusts the oil companies themselves to provide the facts on such matters as land claims and valuation, environmental impact assessments, agreed terms of compensation for property and labor, assessment of sabotage, and damage claims. Most negotiations for compensation are bilateral, between the community affected and the oil company concerned, although government structures may play a nominal monitoring role. The process of valuation, negotiation, and payment is therefore in practice controlled almost entirely by the company. The affected communities are in an unequal bargaining position, largely obliged to accept whatever compensation is offered by the companies in such situations. Although there are independent lawyers and environmental groups attempting to monitor oil company compliance with the law and assist the oil communities in pressing their claims, their activities have in the past been seriously hindered by security force harassment, office raids, detentions, and other repressive measures.
Oil companies are legitimately concerned to prevent damage to their facilities and to the environment and to protect their personnel. Security arrangements between the oil companies and the Nigerian government are inevitable, as are internal oil company provisions for security responses in the event of incidents of hostage taking, sabotage, or intimidation. At the same time, the companies emphasize their commitment to avoid violent confrontations between community members and security forces, while underlining a legal obligation to inform the Nigerian authorities when there is a threat to oil production.
However, Human Rights Watch is concerned at the level of secrecy that surrounds the arrangements relating to security for oil installations: not one of the oil companies with which we corresponded responded to our requests to be given access to the parts of the Memorandum of Understanding or Joint Operations Agreement with the Nigerian government governing security, nor to internal guidelines relating to protection of their facilities. Given the abuses that have been committed by the Nigerian security forces in protecting oil installations, most notoriously in Ogoni, it is all the more important that there be transparency in these arrangements and clear commitments from the oil companies to monitor security force performance related to their operations, take steps to prevent abuses, andpublicly protest violations that do occur. Yet none of the oil companies publish regular, comprehensive reports of allegations of environmental damage, sabotage, claims for compensation, protest actions, or police or military action carried out on or near their facilities. Often, based on Human Rights Watch’s correspondence, the companies claim to be unaware that arrests, detentions and beatings have taken place in the vicinity of their facilities, despite assertions that they are concerned to maintain good relations with the communities where they operate.
Human Rights Watch believes that the oil companies have responsibilities to monitor security force activity in the oil producing region in detail and to take all possible steps to ensure that human rights violations are not committed. These responsibilities are reinforced when the company has itself called for security force intervention, especially by the military or by notoriously abusive forces such as the Mobile Police, or if the company has made payments to the security forces in return for protection. In particular, Human Rights Watch recommends that:
· Companies should include in written agreements with the Nigerian government relating to the regulation of the oil industry, especially any agreements relating specifically to security, provisions requiring state security forces operating in the area of company operations to conform to the human rights obligations the government has assumed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international human rights and humanitarian norms.
· Companies should make public the provisions of their security agreements with state entities and private organizations.
· Companies should insist on screening security force members assigned for their protection, to ensure that no member of the military or police credibly implicated in past human rights abuses is engaged in protecting oil facilities. Companies should similarly screen security staff in their direct employment.
· Companies should investigate abuses that do occur, and make public and private protests to the authorities where excessive force is used, or where arbitrary detentions or other abuses take place. Companies should publish details of such incidents in their annual reports both in Nigeria and in the country of their head office.
· Companies should publicly and privately call on the Nigerian authorities to institute disciplinary or criminal proceedings, as appropriate, against those responsible for abuses and to compensate the victims. Companies should monitor the status of such investigations and press for resolution of the cases, publicly condemning undue delay.
· Companies should adopt internal guidelines surrounding the provision of security for their facilities, emphasizing the need to ensure respect for human rights, and should take disciplinary action against any employee that does not follow such guidelines.
The following sections summarise the background to human rights abuses in the delta, and give examples of particular incidents in which companies have failed to take these steps.
The Oil Industry and the Oil Producing Communities
Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa, and the fifth largest in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The discovery of oil has transformed Nigeria’s political economy, and oil has for the past two decades provided approximately 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings, and 80 percent of federal revenue. Nigeria also has huge reserves of natural gas, yet to be fully exploited. Yet, instead of turning Nigeria into one of the most prosperous states on the African continent, these natural resources have enriched a small minority while the vast majority have become increasingly impoverished: with a per capita gross national product of only U.S.$260 a year, Nigeria is one of the poorest countries in the world. At the same time, the struggle among the elite to gain access to the profits of the oil boom has been a factor in the rule of successive military governments: since independence in 1960, Nigeria has enjoyed only ten years of civilian rule, though the current military regime has committed itself to leave office in May 1999. While minority ethnic groups in Nigeria’s multi-ethnic federation have successfully demanded that new states and local government units be carved out to fulfil their hopes of receiving some benefit from the oil money and to compensate for the damage done by oil production, the Nigerian federation has in practice, paradoxically, become ever more centralized and power and money has been concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Politics has become an exercise in organized corruption; a corruption perhaps most spectacularly demonstrated around the oil industry itself, where large commissions and percentage cuts of contracts have enabled individual soldiers and politicians to amass huge fortunes.
The first discovery of commercial quantities of oil in Nigeria was in 1956; today, the country produces approximately two million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil. Estimates of Nigeria’s oil reserves vary from sixteen to twenty-two billion barrels, mostly found in small fields in the coastal areas of the Niger Delta. According to the Nigerian constitution, all minerals, oil, and gas belong to the Nigerian federal government, which negotiates the terms of oil production withinternational oil companies. Most exploration and production activities in Nigeria are carried out by European and U.S. oil companies operating joint ventures in which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the state oil company, owns 55 or 60 percent; more recent contracts relating to offshore fields have been structured rather as “production sharing contracts” in which the government is not a formal partner. Shell operates a joint venture that produces close to one half of Nigeria’s crude production; Mobil, Chevron, Elf, Agip, and Texaco operate other joint ventures, and a range of international and national oil companies operate smaller concessions.
Oil production has had damaging effects on the environment of the oil producing region, though the extent of the damage is subject to dispute. The Niger Delta is one of the world’s largest wetlands, and the largest in Africa: it encompasses over 20,000 square kilometers, of which perhaps 6,000 square kilometers is mangrove forest, and has the high biodiversity typical of extensive swamp and forest areas, with many unique species of plants and animals. Despite decades of oil production, there is surprisingly little good quality independent scientific data on the overall or long-term effects of hydrocarbon pollution on the Delta, yet oil-led development has clearly seriously damaged the environment and the livelihood of many of those living in the oil producing communities. The oil companies operating in Nigeria maintain that their activities are conducted to the highest environmental standards; but Nigerian environmental laws, in most respects comparable to their international equivalents, are poorly enforced.
Occasional large oil spills kill fish and agricultural crops, and pollute water, with serious effects for the communities and families affected, especially on dry land or in freshwater swamp zones where spills are contained in a small area. The long-term effect of these major pollution incidents, regular small spills, and effluent deliberately discharged to the environment is largely unevaluated. Poorly designed causeways and canals used by the oil industry affect the hydrology of the seasonally flooded freshwater swamp and the brackish water of the mangrove forest, again killing off crops, destroying fishing grounds, and damaging drinking water supplies. Compensation for such damage is inadequate, and—in the absence of a properly functioning court system—there is no effective recourse to an independent arbiter to determine the value of the damaged property. The oil companies state that many spills are caused by sabotage, and, in accordance with Nigerian law, they pay no compensation in such cases; but the determination that sabotage has occurred is largely left in their own hands, increasing the chances of injustice. At the same time, in an area of Nigeria where there is great pressure on cultivable and habitable land, land is expropriated for oil production under laws which allow no effective due process protections for landholders and onlyinadequate compensation for the loss of livelihood of those affected. Although the amount of land used for oil production is small, by comparison with the total area of the Niger Delta, the effect on individual landholders can be devastating. The Niger Delta clearly faces many environmental problems that are not the direct responsibility of the oil industry, but these distinctions are irrelevant to those who have their land confiscated or polluted, without receiving compensation to the value of the benefit lost.
While the people of the Niger Delta have faced the adverse effects of oil extraction, they have in general also failed to gain from the oil wealth. The people living in the oil producing communities largely belong to ethnic groups other than the three major groups in Nigeria (Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo), and speak a diverse range of languages and dialects; the largest of these groups are the Ijaw, who collectively form Nigeria’s fourth largest ethnic group. Since the creation of the Nigerian state by the British, the peoples of the delta have complained of marginalization by the regional and federal governments who have ruled their affairs. Despite the vast wealth produced from the oil found under the delta, the region remains poorer than the national average; and though in the north of Nigeria poverty is more extreme, the divisions between rich and poor are more obvious in the areas where gas flares light up the night sky.
Nevertheless, oil production itself and oil-based industrial expansion have transformed the local economy, and some in the oil producing communities have benefitted greatly from oil production. Those with full time employment in the oil industry are paid high wages for skilled work, but they are a well-paid minority surrounded by a mass of un- or underemployed; most do not come from the oil producing communities in any event. Contractors to the oil industry, often traditional leaders or those with close links to the military administrations of the oil producing states, also potentially make large amounts of money, often increased by the widescale corruption surrounding the award of contracts for construction and other oil industry projects—from which those in the oil companies in charge of the choice of contractor also benefit. Development spending by the oil companies has also brought schools, clinics, and other infrastructure to remote parts of the country that might otherwise be far more marginalized by the Nigerian government; but many of these projects are inappropriate for the needs of the communities where they are sited, and others are incomplete or shoddily carried out. Although a minority of politicians, traditional leaders and contractors have become rich on the spoils of oil, and hence support the oil industry’s activities, the great majority of people from the minority ethnic groups of the oil producing areas have remained impoverished; at the same time, the potential benefits of links to theoil industry have exacerbated conflicts within and among the oil producing communities.
Protest and Repression in the Oil Producing Communities
Anger at the inequities attributed to the oil economy has led increasing numbers of people from the communities in the oil regions to protest the exploitation of what they see as “their” oil—though the constitution provides that all oil is owned by the federal government—without benefit to them or compensation for the damage done to their land and livelihoods. These protests, mostly disorganized and localized, hit the international news headlines during the early 1990s, when the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by well-known author Ken Saro-Wiwa, successfully mobilized tens of thousands of Ogonis, an ethnic group of just half a million people occupying a small part of the oil producing region, to protest at the policies of the federal government in relation to the oil wealth, and at the activities of Shell, the oil company that produces almost half of Nigeria’s oil. In 1993, Shell was forced to close its production in Ogoni following mass protests at its facilities, citing intimidation of its staff, and the flowstations there remain closed until today, though active pipelines still cross the region. MOSOP’s protests provoked a violent and repressive response from the federal government, for which any threat to oil production is a threat to the entire existing political system. Thousands of Ogonis were detained or beaten by the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, a military body specifically created to suppress the protests organized by MOSOP, and hundreds were summarily executed over a period of several years. In 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa and several others were arrested in connection with the murder of four traditional leaders in Ogoni. On November 10, 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP activists were hanged by the military government for those murders, after a trial before a tribunal which blatantly violated international standards of due process and produced no credible evidence that he or the others were involved in the killings for which they were convicted.
Since 1995, no organization has emerged with the cohesion and dynamism of MOSOP, yet protests aimed at oil production take place on a regular basis, and the memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa is respected across the delta. The great majority of these protests are not organized by well-known leadership figures or by recognized political groupings, but by local community members. Many of these protests are never reported, even in the Nigerian national press: only when there is a threat to oil production is reporting guaranteed. Community members demand compensation for use of their land or for oil spills or other environmental damage, employment in oil industry projects, or development projects for their villages. Many protests are aimed at the government as well as the oil companies and relate to claims for a greater part of the revenue derived from oil to be spent in the oil producing region. Sometimes these demands are made by individuals or families in respect of their own land, sometimes youths who feel excluded from the political system and the benefits of oil wealth organize together and successfully halt production at flow stations in their areas, or prevent construction work going ahead, until the international oil companies have satisfied their demands, or part of them. Sometimes these demands are made by individuals or families in respect of their own land. In other cases, youths who feel excluded from the political system and the benefits of oil wealth join together and successfully halt production at flow stations in their areas, or prevent construction work going ahead, until the international oil companies have satisfied their demands, or part of them. On some occasions there has been damage to property, theft, or intimidation of oil company or contractor staff. Sabotage of oil pipelines does occur, though its extent is disputed between the companies and the communities. Incidents of hostage-taking have recently increased, with some of these cases involving attempts to extort money from the oil companies.
In the face of the threat to oil production caused by some of these protests, the Nigerian government has created a number of special task forces handling security in the oil producing areas, of which the most notorious and brutal is the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, created in response to the Ogoni crisis. Like many other states, those in the delta have also created anti-crime task forces: Operation Flush in Rivers State and Operation Salvage in Bayelsa state have been active in the oil regions. The paramilitary Mobile Police, deployed throughout Nigeria, are also active in the delta; and on occasion, the navy is used to maintain order in the riverine areas. From their side, the oil companies operating in Nigeria hire “supernumerary police,” recruited and trained by the Nigerian police force, but paid for by the oil companies. They are supposed to operate only within the perimeter fence of oil facilities. Some of these police are armed, though Shell states that most working on its behalf are not; some operate in plain clothes. In addition, the oil companies state that they hire private firms for routine security provision at entrance barriers and other duties at their premises; and local “guards” hired from among landholders across whose land pipelines run or where other facilities are built.
Nigeria’s new head of state, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, has greatly reduced the repression enforced by his predecessor, Gen. Sani Abacha, who died in June 1998, releasing many political prisoners and relaxing restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association throughout Nigeria. The government has withdrawn the Internal Security Task Force from Ogoni. Many Ogoni exiles havebeen able to return, and MOSOP has been able to hold rallies once again. Nevertheless, the response of the security forces to threats to oil production continues to be heavy handed, and in the oil regions human and environmental rights activists report little change. On December 30, 1998, soldiers shot dead at least seven youths protesting in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State; the following morning, eight others were reported killed, and over the following days a crackdown continued that was still ongoing as this report went to press.
In virtually every community, there have been occasions on which the paramilitary Mobile Police, the regular police, or the army, have beaten, detained, or even killed those involved in protests, peaceful or otherwise, or individuals who have called for compensation for oil damage, whether youths, women, children, or traditional leaders. In some cases, members of the community are beaten or detained indiscriminately, irrespective of their role in any protest. Under the government of General Abacha, activists from human and environmental organizations, especially from political movements attempting to organize resistance to oil company abuses, faced regular harassment from the authorities. While this situation has eased in recent months, the decrees are still in force that allow detention without trial and establish special tribunals to try cases of “civil disturbances” or sabotage without due process protections.
Human Rights Watch investigated a number of cases of protest against oil company activity that have taken place since the 1995 trial and execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight codefendants, during a one-month visit to the Niger Delta during July 1997 and in subsequent research. The cases we investigated can be grouped under two broad thematic headings. On the one hand, there are those incidents where community members have claimed that operations of oil companies have damaged the material interests of the peoples of the areas in which they operate and have not compensated fully for that damage. The incidents involve disputes over legal obligations to provide compensation for claims of damage, for encroachment on community land or waters, or for access rights, though claims are often couched in terms of community rights to a “fair share” of the oil wealth derived from their land. Accordingly, community members have made demands for compensation for oil company activities, whether in the form of cash payments following spillages or land expropriation, development projects in communities close to oil installations, or employment of local community members as casual laborers when work is being carried out in the vicinity. On the other, there are cases of harassment and apparently untargeted assaults upon community members that are a general consequence of the deployment of security personnel to provide protection for oil operations.
In the worst cases, people have been killed by the paramilitary Mobile Police or other security responding to threats to oil production. In May 1998, two youths were killed on Chevron’s Parabe Platform, off Ondo State, by members of the security forces transported to the platform by Chevron to remove two hundred protesters who had closed down production. The protesters had demanded compensation for environmental damage caused by canals cut for Chevron which opened local waterways to the sea. Frequently, protesters are beaten and arbitrarily detained, for periods ranging from hours to weeks or months; sometimes individuals are detained who simply go to oil company or contractors’ premises asking for compensation for works being carried out. In one case in 1997, landholders interviewed by Human Rights Watch had been detained overnight and released without charge following a spill on their land which Elf alleged had been caused by sabotage. They had apparently been held on suspicion that they had caused the sabotage despite the lack of evidence to this effect and the uncompensated damage caused to their crops. Following a major Mobil oil spill in January 1998, up to three hundred people who demanded compensation were reportedly detained; in July, further protests over damage done by the spill and delays in compensation payments led to disturbances in which eleven people were reportedly shot dead by police. As this report went to press, the fatal shooting of tens of Ijaw youths calling for the oil companies to withdraw from Nigeria was reported, together with the deployment of thousands of troops to the Niger Delta region.
The Role of Shell in the Ogoni Crisis
The role of Shell in Nigeria has received by far the most attention internationally, for three reasons: first, because it is the biggest oil producer in Nigeria with the longest history, dominating the industry for as long as oil has been produced and in the early days enjoying a monopoly and a privileged relationship with government; secondly, because Shell’s facilities are largely onshore, in or near inhabited areas and thus exposed to community protests; and thirdly, because it formed the main target of the campaign by MOSOP, which accused the company of complicity in what it alleged was the genocide of the Ogoni people.
During the height of the Ogoni crisis, allegations of Shell collaboration with the military were regularly made, even after the company ceased production from its flow stations in Ogoni in January 1993. A document alleged to be a leaked government memorandum from 1994 implicated Shell in planned “wasting operations” by the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, stating that the oil companies should pay the costs of the operations. The head of the Task Force several times publicly claimed to be acting so that Shell’s oil production couldresume. Former Ogoni members of the Shell police have claimed that they were involved in deliberately creating conflict between different groups of people, and in intimidating and harassing protesters during the height of the MOSOP protests in 1993 and 1994; Ogoni detainees have also alleged that they were detained and beaten by Shell police during the same period. Nigerian environmental and human rights activists in the delta also allege that Shell (and other companies) continue to make payments of field allowances to soldiers deployed to its facilities.
Shell has denied all such allegations, and distanced itself from statements by government or security officials calling for repressive responses to protests, while stating that the company had repeatedly expressed its concerns “over the violence and heavy handedness both sides on the Ogoni issue have displayed from time to time.” Shell also denied any collusion with the authorities. However, Shell has since admitted having made direct payments to the Nigerian security forces, on at least one occasion in 1993, under duress. Under great public pressure, both inside and outside Nigeria, to intervene on behalf of the accused during the trial and following the conviction of the “Ogoni Nine,” Shell wrote to Gen. Abacha pleading for commutation of the death sentences against Ken Saro-Wiwa and his co-accused on humanitarian grounds, but did not make any comment on the unfairness of their trial.
Shell states that its production in Ogoni remains closed, but that it has made attempts to open negotiations with the communities involved in order to resume production, and to undertake development projects aimed at resolving some of the problems faced by the Ogoni. Community members, on the other hand, reported that, while it was still deployed, the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force forced individuals to sign statements “inviting” Shell to return. Shell has also stated at various times over the last few years that it has opened negotiations with MOSOP representatives, though spokespeople for MOSOP have denied this, and challenged Shell’s statements that its presence in Ogoni is limited to provision of social programs and attempts to arrange a reconciliation with the Ogoni people, claiming that Shell staff have on occasion entered Ogoni with security force protection to work on pipelines. MOSOP remains opposed to the reopening of Shell’s production in Ogoni, stating that the company should “clean up or clear out” by Ogoni Day, January 4, 2000.
Attempts to Import Weapons
During 1996, newspaper investigations revealed that Shell had recently been in negotiation for the import of arms for use by the Nigerian police. In January 1996, in response to these allegations, Shell stated that it had in the past imported side arms on behalf of the Nigerian police force, for use by the “supernumerary police” who are on attachment to Shell and guard the company’s facilities (and other oil company facilities) against general crime. The last purchase of weapons by Shell was said to be of 107 hand guns for its supernumerary police, fifteen years before. But court papers filed in Lagos in July 1995 and reported in the British press in February 1996 revealed that Shell had as late as February 1995 been negotiating for the purchase of weapons for the Nigerian police. Shell acknowledged that it had conducted these negotiations but stated that none of the purchases had been concluded. However, the company stated to Human Rights Watch that it “cannot give an undertaking not to provide weapons in the future, as, due to the deteriorating security situation in Nigeria, we may want to see the weapons currently used by the Police who protect Shell people and property upgraded.”
Threats to Community Members
During its investigation of the situation in the delta during July 1997, Human Rights Watch heard disturbing allegations of three separate meetings, two in connection with the same matter, at which eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch alleged that Shell staff, or military authorities in the presence of Shell staff had directly threatened community members, using the situation in Ogoni as an example. Two of these meetings had occurred only days before Human Rights Watch interviewed the people present; the third dated back two years, to the period of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s trial. In another case, a youth was assaulted by Mobile Police at Elf’s Obite gas project, and then threatened by a manager with C&C Construction, a contractor working at the project owned by the Lebanese Chagoury family, which was close to General Abacha. When he refused to withdraw a legal complaint he brought for the assault, despite recommendations that he should “learn the lessons from the Saro-Wiwa trial,” armed men from the State Security Service came to look for him, and he fled several days later to Togo. Since returning to Nigeria several months later, he has been detained several times.
Oil Company Failure to Monitor or Protest Abuses
The most serious case in which an oil company is directly implicated in security force abuses continues to be the incident at Umuechem in 1990, where a Shell manager made a written and explicit request for protection from the Mobile Police (a notoriously abusive force), leading to the killing of eighty unarmed civilians and the destruction of hundreds of homes. Shell states that it has learned from the “regrettable and tragic” incident at Umuechem, so that it would now never call for Mobile Police protection and emphasizes the need for restraint to the Nigerian authorities. Nevertheless, in several of the incidents investigated by Human Rights Watch, oil companies, including Shell, or their contractors, called for security force protection in the face of protests from youths, taking no steps to ensure that such protection was provided in a non-abusive way and making no protests when violations occurred.
In July 1997, youths from Edagberi, Rivers State, for example, were detained overnight following a written complaint to the local police station by Alcon Engineering, a contractor to Shell. While it is claimed by Shell that the youths concerned had been engaged in the intimidation of its contractor, and therefore that security force intervention was appropriate, no safeguards were sought to ensure that such intervention was made in a non-abusive manner. Similarly, at Yenezue-Gene, Rivers State, where Shell faces community hostility caused by the construction of a causeway to its Gbaran oil field which had devastated a forest area of great economic importance to local residents, soldiers present at the site had harassed local community members during 1996 and 1997. Shell stated to Human Rights Watch that its contractors had called for police (though not army) assistance, “due to community hostilities.” Shell did not report, in response to Human Rights Watch inquiries, that any guarantees had been sought for the good behavior of these police; the company was also unaware of reports of abusive behavior by security forces that community members stated had been made to local Shell personnel.
In an August 1995 incident at Iko, Akwa Ibom State, a community where a defective flare (used to burn off gas released at a well-head) had caused significant damage, Shell’s contractor Western Geophysical stated that it had requested naval assistance to recover boats taken by youths who wanted to obtain benefits from the contractor, including employment. Following the naval intervention, Mobile Police came to the village and assaulted numerous villagers, beating to death a teacher who had acted as an interpreter in negotiations between Western Geophysical and the community. Shell has stated to Human Rights Watch that it does not call for military protection, but justified calling the navy in this case due to the terrain; it stated that the Mobile Police had been called by the navy and not by Shell or itscontractor. In its detailed response Shell did not report that the company or its contractor had made any attempt to protest the Mobile Police action, simply reporting that “this incident is unrelated to Western’s seismic activities.”
In May 1998, when Chevron’s Parabe platform was occupied by approximately 200 youths and production shut down, Chevron acknowledged that it had called for navy intervention, and that the company had flown the navy and Mobile Police to the platform. Despite the serious result of this action, including the shooting dead of two protesters whom it admitted were unarmed, Chevron did not indicate, in response to inquiries from Human Rights Watch, that any attempt had been made to prevent abusive actions by the security forces in advance of the confrontation. Nor did it state that concern had been expressed to the authorities over the incident or that any steps would be taken to avoid similar incidents in future. Chevron’s response concerning an earlier case involving a Chevron facility in which a youth was killed by Mobile Police in July 1997 at Opuama, Bayelsa State, similarly included nothing to indicate that it had raised human rights concerns with the authorities over the incident.
Calling for security force protection increases the responsibility of the oil company to ensure that intervention does not result in human rights violations; but even if the security forces have acted on their behalf without a specific company request for assistance companies cannot be indifferent to resulting abuse. Yet in the great majority of cases the oil companies do not report any attempt to monitor or protest human rights violations by the security forces against those who have raised concerns about environmental problems, requested financial compensation or employment, protested oil company activity, or threatened oil production. In a handful of high-profile cases of detention, one or two oil companies have, under consumer pressure in Europe and the U.S., made public statements, but the great majority go unremarked. In none of the cases of abuse researched by Human Rights Watch which had not reached the international press did any of the oil companies indicate that they had registered concern with the authorities. In the cases reviewed, it was generally only after the behavior of the Nigerian authorities had embarrassed the oil companies on the international stage that action of any kind ensued on behalf of those who were abused by the security forces. In other cases, the oil companies said they were ignorant of arrests or beatings that had occurred, although some concerned quite major incidents at their facilities.
Shell, for example, denied knowledge of detentions that took place following major disturbances during June and July 1995 at Egbema, Imo State, during which Mobile Police carried out indiscriminate beatings and arrested more than thirty people, detaining them for several weeks without trial, before releasing them on bail charged with sabotage. Instead, Shell stated that the disputes at that time hadbeen “amicably settled,” through negotiations between the community and the military administration. Elf denied to Human Rights Watch that it knew of the beating and detention of an activist at its Obite gas project in October 1998. Agip, when asked about the case of a youth beaten to death by security guards at its Clough Creek flow station, near Egbemo-Angalabiri, did not even respond to community representations nor to inquiries from Human Rights Watch. When several hundred people were arrested following demonstrations over a January 12, 1998 spill from an offshore pipeline near its Qua Iboe terminal, Mobil did publicly distance itself from the arrests, but did not indicate that any protests had been made to the authorities, stating to reporters in Lagos: “It is a security issue. It is nothing to do with Mobil at all.”
Shell’s Internal Review Since 1995
Since the international focus on its Nigerian holdings in 1995, the Royal Dutch/Shell group has undertaken a major review of its attitude toward communities and issues of human rights and sustainable development. No other oil company operating in Nigeria has, so far as Human Rights Watch is aware, announced any similar review of its policies and practices as a they relate to human rights violations committed in connection with oil company operations. While we welcome this introspection, the test of its effectiveness in changing Shell’s practice can only be gauged by its performance on the ground in countries like Nigeria. It is too soon to tell whether this performance will be changed.
There can be no solution to the simmering conflict in the oil producing areas of the delta until its people gain the right to participate in their own governance and until the protection of the rule of law is extended to their communities. The injustices facing the peoples of the delta are in many ways the same as those facing all Nigerians after decades of rule by successive military regimes, yet in the oil producing regions the suppression of political activity, the lack of legal redress for damage to the environment and the resulting loss of livelihood, and the sheer ubiquity of human rights abuses by the region’s security forces have generated greater protest, in turn generating greater repression. While the death of General Abacha and the succession of General Abubakar has recently improved respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Nigeria, the situation in the delta remains fundamentally unchanged—as the recent escalation of protest actions has demonstrated.
The first responsibility for resolving these injustices lies with the Nigerian government. Yet the multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria cannot avoidtheir own share of responsibility. It is not enough simply to say that the political environment in Nigeria is as difficult for the oil companies as it is for anyone else, and that the oil industry does not have the power to alter government policy towards the oil regions: the oil companies in many respects contribute towards the discontent in the delta and to conflict within and between communities that results in repressive government responses. The oil companies must take all steps to ensure that oil production does not continue at the cost of their host communities simply because of the threat or actual use of force against those who protest their activities. There is an ever-growing likelihood that, unless corrective action is taken, protest in the oil areas will become violent in an organized and concerted way, with consequent reprisals and an ever-worsening security situation that will harm all those with interests in the delta region, whether residents or companies.