New York trial delayed for Nigerians suing Shell

Mon Apr 6, 2009 9:01pm BST

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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK, April 6 (Reuters) - A closely watched lawsuit brought on behalf of executed Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and others against oil company Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) is now due to go to trial on May 26, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said on Monday.

The trial, which was scheduled to begin on April 27, was postponed last week by U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan federal court, said Jennifer Green, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The oil company faces charges that include human rights violations in Nigeria in connection with the torture and death of Saro-Wiwa and eight other protesters after they were executed by the Nigerian government in 1995.

Shell has long denied allegations that it played any role in their deaths.

Shell could be forced to pay millions of dollars in damages if found responsible in the case that was first filed in 1996 by the family of Saro-Wiwa, an environmentalist and author.

Saro-Wiwa, who was leader of rights group Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, led campaigns against multinational companies working in the Niger Delta. He argued that they did not pass along any benefits from the industry and that they damaged the environment.

The activists were hanged on Nov. 10, 1995, in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, after what the lawsuit called a sham trial based on fabricated charges.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are arguing that the executions by the Nigerian military junta were carried out with the "knowledge, consent and/or support" of Shell.

No U.S. jury has found a multinational company liable in the United States of human rights abuses, although a few cases have been settled out of court. If Shell is found accountable, the case could affect how multinational companies conduct business overseas.

A federal jury in San Francisco cleared Chevron in December of liability sought by Nigerians for a violent clash on an oil platform off their country's coast more than a decade ago. (Reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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