US Federal Judge Finds Evidence that Chevron Was Complicit In Murder of Nigerian Villagers
In a series of rulings issued August 14, 2007, United States District Court Judge Susan Illston rejected Chevron Corporation’s final attempts to avoid trial for its involvement in brutal attacks on Nigerian villagers.
Nine Nigerian plaintiffs are suing Chevron in federal court in San Francisco for deaths and other abuses in two incidents in 1998 and 1999, in which Nigerian military and police paid by Chevron and using Chevron helicopters and boats tortured and shot protestors and destroyed two villages allegedly associated with opposition to Chevron’s oil activities in the desperately poor Niger delta. The plaintiffs assert claims ranging from torture to wrongful death.
Judge Illston found “evidence that CNL [Chevron Nigeria Limited] personnel were directly involved in the attacks; CNL transported the GSF [Nigerian government security forces], CNL paid the GSF; and CNL knew that GSF were prone to use excessive force,” concluding that the evidence would allow a jury to find not only that Chevron knew the attacks would happen and assisted in them, but also that Chevron actually agreed to the military’s plan.
“We’re pleased that our clients will finally get justice for Chevron’s crimes,” said plaintiffs’ counsel Theresa Traber, partner at Traber & Voorhees. “Chevron conspired with and paid the notorious Nigerian military to attack our clients and their loved ones, murdering at least seven people, torturing others and burning two villages to the ground. The court correctly refused to let narrow legalistic excuses allow Chevron to escape responsibility for these brutal attacks.” Rick Herz, Litigation Coordinator at EarthRights International, added, “The court’s ruling reaffirms that corporations who are complicit in human rights abuses can be held accountable, regardless of where those abuses occur.” Cooperating attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights Judith Chomsky added, “Courts going back to the Second Circuit's ruling in Filartiga v. Peña Irala have recognized that the U.S. courts can hear claims for human rights violations such as torture. Since 1997 in Doe v. Unocal, courts have recognized that corporations could also be held accountable in U.S. courts for complicity in human rights violations. We are pleased that Judge Illston is allowing the next step of putting a corporation on trial.”
A jury trial in the case, Bowoto v. Chevron Corp., No. 99-2506, is expected within the year. In addition to ERI and Traber & Voorhees, the plaintiffs are represented by the private law firms of Hadsell & Stormer and Siegel & Yee; the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Electronic Frontier Foundation; and Paul Hoffman, Michael Sorgen, Robert Newman, Anthony DiCaprio, Elizabeth Guarnieri, and Richard Wiebe. More information on the case may be found at www.earthrights.org.