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Nigeria: Oil, Poverty, and Rights, 1
Nigeria: Oil, Poverty, and Rights, 1
Date distributed (ymd): 020709
Document reposted by Africa Action
Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information
service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa
Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American
Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for
Africa at http://www.africaaction.org
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+
This posting contains two articles reporting on the decision by the
African Commission on Human & Peoples' Rights to order the Nigerian
government to compensate the Ogoni people for abuses against their
lands, environment, housing, and health caused by oil production
and government security forces. Another posting also sent out today
has additional background on current issues concerning the
distribution of oil revenues.
The ruling and the initial petition submitted in 1996 are available
For more information:
African Commission on Human & Peoples' Rights
Kairaba Avenue, P.O. Box 673, BANJUL, The Gambia
Tel.: (220) 392962; Fax: (220) 390764; Email:
Felix Morka,Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC),
16 Awari Cresent, Off Cocker Road, Obokun St. Illupeju-Lagos,
PO Box 13616, Ikeja-Lagos Nigeria; Tel: + 234 1 496 8605;
Fax: + 234 1 496 8606; Email:
Center for Economic and Social Rights
162 Montague St., 2nd Floor * Brooklyn, NY 11201
Tel: (718) 237-9145 * Fax: (718) 237-9147 *
AFRICA ACTION NOTES TO READERS
(1) We need your continued support. Thanks to those of you who
have supported our work with contributions this year. If you have
not done so yet, please read our letter at
http://www.africaaction.org/join.htm for updates on our work and
links for making your contributions.
(2) Africa Action is adding new organizing staff. For a job
announcement for a Washington-based field organizer, see
http://www.africaaction.org/faq/orgjob.htm [link no longer available - 9/02].
Please bring this to
the attention of potential candidates.
(3) These e-mail postings will be less frequent during the
summer, to allow for staff travel, vacations, and organizational
housekeeping. After the two postings today, there will be no
postings until the week of July 22.
(4) Since our June 25 posting on the food crisis in southern
Africa, we have received information about two additional recent
reports on the subject.
Oxfam UK Briefing Paper. "Crisis in Southern Africa"
International Food Policy Research Institute, "Fighting Famine in
Southern Africa: Steps out of the Crisis"
People versus Big Oil:
Rights of Nigerian Indigenous People Recognized
by Jim Lobe, July 5, 2002
FPIF Global Affairs Commentary http://www.fpif.org
Jim Lobe <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes for Foreign Policy In Focus
as well as for OneWorld.net and Inter Press Service.
At a time when the petropolitics of the Bush administration seem
to reign supreme, the rights of peoples affected by the global
hunt for oil have received an important boost. An African
commission has ruled the Nigerian government should compensate
the Ogoni people for abuses against their lands, environment,
housing, and health caused by oil production and government
security forces. Nigerian and international groups say that the
ruling by the nine-member African Commission on Human and
Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) is a sweeping affirmation of what the
human rights community calls ESC rights--defined by the UN's
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and, Cultural Rights.
The commission called on Nigeria to undertake a "comprehensive
cleanup of lands and rivers damaged by oil operations." It must
also ensure that the social and environmental impact of future
oil development on its territory does not harm local communities.
Human rights groups are hailing the commission's decision as a
major breakthrough in the battle for international recognition of
ESC rights, which have long been given lesser
status--particularly by Western countries--than political and
civil rights. "This is the first decision by the African
Commission to specifically and comprehensively address violations
of economic and social and cultural rights under the Africa
Charter," said Felix Morka, director of the Lagos-based Social
and Economic Rights Actions Centre (SERAC), which launched the
case against the military regime of Gen. Sani Abacha in 1996.
Morka observed that the recent ruling was the strongest and most
articulate statement on the validity and enforceability of
economic and social rights emanating from any intergovernmental
human rights body.
"It is a remarkable decision indeed," said Bronwen Manby, a
Nigeria specialist at the London office of Human Rights Watch
(HRW). "The very fact that it's a decision by the African
Commission--which is a body of the Organisation of African Unity
(OAU) and appointed by governments--means that it will certainly
form a part of the body of international jurisprudence on
economic and social rights."
The case was filed shortly after the execution in November 1995
of nine leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni
People (MOSOP), including the world-renowned playwright and
author, Ken Saro-wiwa. MOSOP and Saro-wiwa had led a global
campaign to publicize the plight of the Ogonis, a minority in the
oil-rich Niger Delta region, whose lands and rivers had been
polluted for years as a result of operations by Shell Petroleum
Development Corporations, the area's largest foreign oil
producer, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC).
Protests by the Ogoni, especially in the early 1990s, were met
with fierce military repression, including what one internal
government memo called "wasting operations" against Ogoni
villages and suspected MOSOP activists. Scores of people were
killed and their property looted and burned.
After the 1995 executions, Shell became a target of an
international consumer boycott, while a number of Western
countries slapped diplomatic and other sanctions on the military
regime, most of which lifted only after the return of civilian
rule in 1999 when retired Gen. Obusegun Obasanjo won elections.
Apart from one submission that confirmed the main allegations
filed by SERAC, the Obasanjo government did not participate in
the case, forcing the Commission to conclude that Nigerian courts
were not prepared to act on the plaintiffs' case. Although the
judgement was communicated to the government early last month,
Abuja has not yet reacted officially.
The decision, which runs 14 pages, asserts that the government
violated seven articles of the 1981 African Charter on Human and
Peoples' Rights, to which Nigeria is a signatory. They included
the rights: "to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and
mental health," "to a general satisfactory environment favorable
to [the peoples'] development," and to "freely dispose of their
wealth and natural resources."
According to the ruling, "By any measure of standards, its
practice falls short of the minimum conduct expected of
governments." In a direct reference to the role of the oil
corporations, the commission observed: "The intervention of
multinational corporations may be a potentially positive force
for development if the State and the people concerned are ever
mindful of the common good and the sacred rights of individuals
The decision is important for people throughout the world who
suffer from corporate practices, said Roger Normand, director of
the New York-based Center for Economic, Social, and Cultural
Rights (CESR), which co-sponsored the case with SERAC.
"I believe that this can serve as a precedent not only throughout
Africa, but also for all similar efforts to hold governments
accountable for gross human rights violations linked to abusive
corporate practices," he added. Normand and others also agreed
with Morka that the decision is the strongest affirmation to date
by an inter-governmental body of ESC rights. Despite their
inclusion in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this
family of rights have tended to be given second-class status by
the West, including Western-based human rights groups such as
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Western nations agreed most recently at the 1993 World Conference
on Human Rights in Vienna that all rights in the Universal
Declaration are indivisible and interdependent, however, "for
most of the past 50 years, these rights were totally neglected by
governments and human rights NGOs," according to Larry Cox,
senior program officer for international human rights at the New
York-based Ford Foundation. "But in the last five years, we've
seen the beginning of real momentum on these rights, led first
and foremost by groups in the Global South who are in many ways
the most adversely affected by the lack of such rights," he
noted. "That's the history of the human rights movement: people
who make these rights real are the victims who are fighting for
Although the U.S. government has long agreed that all of the
rights included in the Universal Declaration are indivisible and
interdependent, Washington has tended to treat economic and
social rights more as privileges than as core rights. Indeed, the
State Department's annual human rights country reports do not
explicitly cover economic and social rights. In that respect,
said Normand, the African Commission's decision "is moving ahead
of western standards in the protection of economic, social, and
cultural rights--an important achievement for Africa, but an
example for the rest of the world."
NIGERIA: Ogoni group wants action on African rights commission's
LAGOS, 28 June (IRIN) - Minority rights activists in Nigeria have
called on the government to act urgently on a ruling by the
African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) that the
state perpetrated massive abuses in the southeastern area of
The Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) said in a
statement sent to IRIN on Friday that it was seeking an audience
with Justice Minister Kanu Agabi to obtain the prosecution of
those who violated the rights of the 500,000-strong Ogoni and
compensation for the victims as requested by ACHPR.
The commission, based in Banjul, The Gambia, announced its ruling
in a letter dated 27 May 2002. It found successive military
governments in Nigeria guilty of massive violation of Ogoni
rights. It also said the Ogoni had suffered from widespread
environmental degradation by oil companies operating in their
area, which is part of the oil-rich Niger Delta.
The commission's decision was in response to complaints filed in
1996 by a Nigerian human rights group, Social and Economic Rights
Action, and the US-based Council for Economic, Social and
"The Security forces were given the green light to decisively
deal with the Ogonis, which was illustrated by the widespread
terrorisations and killings," the ACHPR said. "The pollution and
environmental degradation to a level humanly unacceptable has
made living in Ogoniland a nightmare ... They affected the life
of the Ogoni society as a whole."
The Commission said that during a mission to Ogoniland between 7
and 14 March 1997, its members saw "the deplorable situation ...
including the environmental degradation". It said they found
violations of articles of the African Charter on Human and
People's Rights that protect the right to life, enjoyment of
economic, social and cultural rights, health, housing and
It therefore appealed to the Nigerian government to take action.
Measures it proposed included conducting an investigation into
the human rights violations and prosecuting the security and
other officials involved.
"In response to this ruling MOSOP is seeking an urgent meeting
with the Attorney-General to understand whether the federal
government is finally willing to respond to its obligations to
Ogoni," the group said. "We are also calling on President
(Olusegun) Obasanjo to show leadership in respecting and giving
his full support to the ruling of the Africa Commission."
Founded in 1990 by Ogoni intellectuals, including late writer Ken
Saro-Wiwa, MOSOP bore the full brunt of brutal repression under
different military regimes for spearheading a campaign that drew
attention to decades of environmental devastation by oil
companies and the neglect of the Niger Delta by successive
In 1993, Royal/Dutch Shell, the main oil company with operations
in the Ogoni district, was forced to pull out of the area in the
face of intense hostility from local people.
Eager to stop MOSOP and what it represented in the oil region,
late Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha ordered the execution
of Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists on charges of murder
after what was widely condemned as a flawed trial. A special
military force he stationed in the area was accused of numerous
killings, rapes and other atrocities.
Selected Excerpts from the Commission Ruling
8. The Commission notes that in the present case, despite its
obligation to protect persons against interferences in the
enjoyment of their rights, the Government of Nigeria facilitated
the destruction of the Ogoniland. Contrary to its Charter
obligations and despite such internationally established
principles, the Nigerian Government has given the green light to
private actors, and the oil Companies in particular, to
devastatingly affect the well-being of the Ogonis. By any measure
of standards, its practice falls short of the minimum conduct
expected of governments, and therefore, is in violation of
Article 21 of the African Charter.
16. The government's treatment of the Ogonis has violated all
three minimum duties of the right to food. The government has
destroyed food sources through its security forces and State Oil
Company; has allowed private oil companies to destroy food
sources; and, through terror, has created significant obstacles
to Ogoni communities trying to feed themselves. The Nigerian
government has again fallen short of what is expected of it as
under the provisions of the African Charter and international
human rights standards, and hence, is in violation of the right
to food of the Ogonis.
17. The Complainants also allege that the Nigerian Government has
violated Article 4 of the Charter which guarantees the
inviolability of human beings and everyone's right to life and
integrity of the person respected. Given the wide spread
violations perpetrated by the Government of Nigeria and by
private actors (be it following its clear blessing or not), the
most fundamental of all human rights, the right to life has been
violated. The Security forces were given the green light to
decisively deal with the Ogonis, which was illustrated by the
wide spread terrorisations and killings. The pollution and
environmental degradation to a level humanly unacceptable has
made it living in the Ogoni land a nightmare. The survival of the
Ogonis depended on their land and farms that were destroyed by
the direct involvement of the Government. These and similar
brutalities not only persecuted individuals in Ogoniland but also
the whole of the Ogoni Community as a whole. They affected the
life of the Ogoni Society as a whole. The Commission conducted a
mission to Nigeria from the 7th - 14th March 1997 and witnessed
first hand the deplorable situation in Ogoni land including the
For the above reasons, the Commission,
Finds the Federal Republic of Nigeria in violation of Articles 2,
4, 14, 16, 18(1), 21 and 24 of the African Charter on Human and
Appeals to the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to
ensure protection of the environment, health and livelihood of
the people of Ogoniland by:
- Stopping all attacks on Ogoni communities and leaders by the
Rivers State Internal Securities Task Force and permitting
citizens and independent investigators free access to the
- Conducting an investigation into the human rights violations
described above and prosecuting officials of the security forces,
NNPC and relevant agencies involved in human rights violations;
- Ensuring adequate compensation to victims of the human rights
violations, including relief and resettlement assistance to
victims of government sponsored raids, and undertaking a
comprehensive cleanup of lands and rivers damaged by oil
- Ensuring that appropriate environmental and social impact
assessments are prepared for any future oil development and that
the safe operation of any further oil development is guaranteed
through effective and independent oversight bodies for the
petroleum industry; and
- Providing information on health and environmental risks and
meaningful access to regulatory and decision-making bodies to
communities likely to be affected by oil operations.
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by
Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information
Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa).
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