Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

November 5, 1996

Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

Shell has been the main focus of international scrutiny. A massacre of some 80 members of the Etche ethnic group took place at Umuechem in November 1990 after Shell had called in the Mobile Police Force, a paramilitary force, to protect its installations and personnel. In October 1993, a Shell staff member was accompanied by Nigerian military personnel to Korokoro flowstation, where there had been a disturbance. One Ogoni youth was subsequently alleged to have been killed by soldiers.

Shell has stated publicly that it was shocked by what happened at Umuechem and since 1994 has had a policy of refusing all offers of police or military protection in the Niger delta. Shell's perceived failure to speak out publicly to protect the human rights of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders during their grossly unfair trials and subsequent execution in November 1995, led to intense international criticism of the company. Shell countered these criticisms, saying that it had done all it could through its preferred method of quiet diplomacy. On 30 January 1996, Shell issued a statement in which it said that it recognized and supported the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It continued to argue during 1996 that quiet diplomacy was the best way for it to make known its concerns to the Nigerian government about the prospective trial by Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal of a further 19 Ogoni prisoners. On 15 May 1996, Shell issued a statement in which it called for fair trial and humane treatment for the 19 Ogoni prisoners.

International concern about the relationship between Shell and the Nigerian police and military was revived during 1996 following a statement by Shell that it had in the past paid for imported firearms for the Nigerian police in order to guard its property and protect the homes of its executives. At first Shell stated that the only such purchase had been for 107 handguns in 1981. However, it emerged that further negotiations had taken place between 1993 and 1995 between Shell, the Nigerian police and a Nigerian arms dealer for the supply of a range of heavier weaponry for the 5,000 Nigerian police guarding its property across Nigeria. Shell said that criminals in Nigeria were increasingly using sub-machine guns and that many other companies in Nigeria also purchase arms for Nigerian police assigned to guard their property. A Shell security adviser had included within the negotiations the possible purchase of riot control equipment, but Shell stated that this had been unauthorized and the person involved was dismissed. Shell also stated that no new weaponry was ever purchased but that it wished to keep open the option of doing so.

In its approaches in recent years to Shell and other transnational companies with significant investments in Nigeria, Amnesty International has appealed to them to acknowledge their responsibility to do all they can to uphold human rights under the UDHR. Only Shell has done so to date. Amnesty International has also appealed to them not to call upon the Nigerian military, security or police forces for protection where their presence may contribute to human rights abuses and to use every opportunity to press the Nigerian authorities to observe international human rights standards. Further, transnational companies have also been asked to encourage the Nigerian government to improve and extend human rights training for law enforcement officials and to support those in Nigeria working to defend human rights.

Amnesty International calls upon the international community, including transnational companies with significant investments in Nigeria to: