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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

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

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +security/peace+


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 at

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: Website:

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 *

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


(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 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 [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" and
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

Jim Lobe <> writes for Foreign Policy In Focus as well as for 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 and communities."

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 them."

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 ruling

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 Ogoniland.

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 Cultural Rights.

"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 development.

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 governments.

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 environmental degradation.

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 Peoples' Rights;

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 territory;
  • 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 operations;
  • 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). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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