NEW YORK, June 8 (Reuters) – Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle several lawsuits over the executions of protesters in Nigeria in the 1990s, lawyers for both sides said on Monday.
The settlement comes as the more than decade-long dispute was due to go to trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Paul Hoffman, a lawyer for the victims’ families, said.
The lawsuit accused Shell of human rights abuses in the Niger Delta region, including violations connected with the 1995 hangings of author and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other protesters by Nigeria’s then-military government.
“We litigated with Shell for 13 years and, at the end of the day, the plaintiffs are going to be compensated for the human rights violations they suffered,” Hoffman said.
“Had we tried the case and won, the plaintiffs were still looking at years of appeals,” he said.
Hoffman said that $5 million would go into a trust for the benefit of the Ogoni people. The rest of the money would go to lawyer’s fees and compensation for the families.
“Shell has always maintained the allegations were false,” said Malcolm Brinded, Shell’s executive director for exploration and production. “While we were prepared to go to court to clear our name, we believe the right way forward is to focus on the future for Ogoni people, which is important for peace and stability in the region.
“This gesture also acknowledges that, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered,” Brinded said.
The original lawsuits were brought under a 1789 U.S. statute, the Alien Tort Claims Act, allowing noncitizens to file cases in U.S. courts for human rights abuses occurring overseas.
The lawsuits sought unspecified damages from Shell for backing the jailing, torturing and killing of the protesters as well as for polluting the region’s air and water.
The cases are: Wiwa et al v Royal Dutch Shell et al 96-08386; Wiwa et al v Anderson et al 01-01909: and Wiwa v Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited 08-1803 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan) (Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)