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Shell Accused of Crimes Against Humanity

Family of Saro-Wiwa sues oil company in American court
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted May 22, 2009 7:18 AM CDT
Shell Accused of Crimes Against Humanity
Jeroen van der Veer, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, delivers a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday, March 31, 2008 in New York.    (AP Photo/Jin Lee)

(Newser) – Next week Royal Dutch Shell will finally appear in court to answer charges that it was complicit in the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the author and oil company critic executed by Nigeria's former military regime in 1995. Saro-Wiwa's family accuses the oil company of "a systemic campaign of human rights violations" to silence opposition to its operations, and alleges that Shell bribed witnesses at Saro-Wiwa's show trial. The case, in an American court, could have major repercussions for the oil industry, reports the New York Times.

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After decades when they seemed unstoppable, oil companies are facing substantial legal challenges: Chevron is in the dock for pollution in Ecuador, while Exxon is being sued by Indonesian villagers. But it's Shell's trial for crimes against humanity, after years of attempts, that stands to transform the oil industry most profoundly. "If a jury found Shell guilty," said one activist, "this would change the behavior of the industry pretty quickly." (Read more Ken Saro-Wiwa stories.)

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