Judge Rejects Last Ditch Attempt by Shell to Stop Human Rights Trial

New York, April 23, 2009— This afternoon, Judge Kimba Wood of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected Royal Dutch Shell’s motion to dismiss a human rights case charging the company and the head of its Nigerian operation, Brian Anderson, with complicity in the torture and killing of peaceful Nigerian protesters more than 10 years ago.

Shell’s last ditch attempt to avoid trial claimed the court did not have jurisdiction to consider the case, but Judge Wood, in a 25-page ruling, overwhelmingly supported plaintiffs’ international law claims for extrajudicial killing, torture, arbitrary detention, and crimes against humanity. The trial will begin May 26, 2009.

“Once again Shell thought it could evade justice,” said CCR attorney Jennie Green. “Now, the public will have the opportunity to see how Shell’s complicity with a murderous military regime was its standard operating procedure for doing business in Nigeria.”

Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and Wiwa v. Anderson are two lawsuits filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel from EarthRights International on behalf of relatives of murdered activists who were fighting for human rights and environmental justice in Nigeria. The cases charge the corporation and this key official for their complicity in the November 10, 1995 hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leaders in the nonviolent opposition to Shell’s pattern of human rights abuses and environmental destruction: John Kpuinen, Saturday Doobee, Daniel Gbokoo, Felix Nuate, and Dr. Barinem Kiobel.  The cases also include charges for the torture, detention, and forced exile of Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s brother, Dr. Owens Wiwa, and Michael Tema Vizor; and the shooting of Karololo Kogbara and Uebari N-nah in two attacks on peaceful protestors.  

Said plaintiff Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr., the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa, “As my father always insisted, one day Shell will be on trial. That day is coming.”

The defendants are charged with complicity in human rights abuses against the Ogoni people in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhuman treatment, arbitrary arrest, wrongful death, assault and battery, and infliction of emotional distress. The cases were brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).

Nigeria has been chief among Shell’s assets for many years. Critics charge that with the aim of production at any cost, regardless of the damage to the surrounding people and land, Shell disrupted thousands of lives and wreaked havoc on the environment.  In the early 1990’s, the people of Nigeria began to protest. Shell made payments and provided arms to security forces that they knew to be abusive to local communities.  The military government violently repressed the demonstrations and arrested and bribed witnesses.  Nine leaders of the demonstrations were murdered, including the aforementioned well-known activist and writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa.  

In addition to CCR and ERI, the plaintiffs are represented by CCR cooperating attorneys Judith Brown Chomsky, Anthony DiCaprio and Beth Stephens, and Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris and Hoffman.

For complete pdf’s of the legal briefs and further background information, visit The Case Against Shell website.


The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


Last modified 

December 18, 2009