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USA/Nigeria: Chevron on Trial
Oct 31, 2008 (081031)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Opening arguments began this week in federal court in San Francisco
in the landmark human rights case of Bowoto v. Chevron. Nineteen
plaintiffs, including survivor Larry Bowoto, are accusing Chevron
of collaboration with Nigerian military in brutal suppression of
a protest by unarmed villagers on a Chevron offshore oil platform
in the Niger Delta in 1998. Bowoto was shot during the protest; two
other protesters were killed.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a selection of background
documents from the Center on Constitutional Rights and Earthrights
International, two non-governmental organizations that are
supporting the suit. The documents include a summary of the case,
an explanation of what Chevron is being asked to do to support and
compensate the communities in the oil extraction areas, and a press
advisory with contacts for further information as the case
proceeds. The case is a landmark test case in the use of U.S. law,
particularly the Alien Tort Statute, to require corporate
accountability for abuses by U.S.-based corporations.
There is extensive additional information available on the websites
of the two organizations:
Chevron's defense of its position can be found at
For a summary and additional references see the Wikipedia article
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, see
For a graphic and historically grounded portrayal of oil
production and environmental and human rights issues in the Niger
Delta, see Curse Of The Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger
edited by Michael Watts, with photographs by Ed Kashi. Watts,
a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, is among
the expert witnesses testifying in the case.
For a selection of other books on Nigeria and oil, see
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Bowoto v. Chevron:
International Human Rights Litigation Fact Sheet
First They Poisoned Our Land
When We Protested, They Shot Us
http://www.earthrights.org * http://www.CCRjustice.org
The Bowoto v. Chevron case arises from simple facts: On May 28,
1998, Chevron participated in the murder, shooting and subsequent
torture of Nigerian villagers engaging in environmental protest
against the oil giant. Chevron paid the Nigerian police and
soldiers who conducted the attack, ferried them to the attack
zone and "closely supervised" them during the attack. The case
seeks justice for the villagers injured and killed in the
The Attack: What Happened on May 28, 1998
In late May, 1998, Nigerian villagers from the Ilaje tribe went
to Chevron's offshore Parabe Platform to protest the destruction
of their environment and traditional fishing and farming
activities by Chevron's oil activities. These include the
destruction of the freshwater supply, erosion and pollution of
the land. The impact on the communities has been devastating. For
instance, some villagers must travel many kilometers to find
The protestors sought compensation including environmental
reparations, jobs, medical assistance and scholarships. Their
elders and Chevron Nigeria officials negotiated during the
protest. Chevron Nigeria officials reported to the U.S. Embassy
that "the villagers were unarmed and the situation has remained
calm since their arrival."
On the afternoon of May 27, 1998, after the protestors had
already agreed to leave the next morning, Chevron summoned the
military and police and directed them to go to Parabe. Very early
on the morning of May 28, 1998, when the protestors were just
waking up, Chevron Nigeria and its lead security officer flew
members of the Nigerian Forces to Parabe in Chevron-Nigeria-leased
helicopters. Chevron had told the workers on the platform to hide.
The Nigerian police and soldiers opened fire on the unarmed
civilians. Chevron Nigeria's security officer directed the
soldiers' activities using a bullhorn. The police and soldiers shot
and killed two people, one of whom is Arolika Irowarinun, whose
family is among those bringing this lawsuit. The other protester
who was killed was shot in the back. The security forces shot and
injured at least two more, including Larry Bowoto, who was shot
multiple times. None of the individuals who were shot or injured
posed any threat.
After the attack a number of protestors were locked in a small
container on the Chevron platform and held without food or water,
while Chevron Nigeria officials looked on. They were subsequently
taken in Chevron boats to jails onshore where they were
imprisoned, tortured, and beaten by the police and military. One
of the protestors, Bola Oyinbo, was hung from a ceiling fan and
repeatedly beaten to the point where he could not stand and blood
was coming from his mouth. Another described how, immediately
after the shootings, the security forces beat him with a gun and
a horse whip, until he fell down and bled through his nose. The
protestors were kept in inhumane jail conditions for weeks.
During their imprisonment, the beatings and torture continued.
The Ilaje are a small Nigerian ethnic group, many of whom live in
relatively remote swamplands and river areas in Nigeria's Ondo
State in the southwest Niger River delta region. Many of these
communities can only be accessed from the air or by water.
Ilajeland, as it is called, has been severely disrupted by the
presence of Chevron Nigeria in the region. Chevron's activities
have depleted traditional food supplies, destroyed the water
supply, and put villages under water due to erosion. The
destruction of the natural environment has meant great hardship
and unemployment for many Ilaje people, as well as the loss of
traditional food supplies.
Attempts at Negotiation
In 1998, an Ilaje community organization made up of
representatives from nearly all of the 42 affected communities
sent a series of letters to Chevron Nigeria detailing the
problems facing the Ilaje communities, including environmental
and economic degradation. Chevron failed to respond. The local
government authorities even attempted to set up a meeting between
the villagers and Chevron, but Chevron failed to attend.
Finally, on May 25, 1998, over 100 unarmed and peaceful Ilaje
protestors went to a Chevron offshore Parabe oil platform and
barge. Nigerian Navy and mobile police stationed at the platform,
who were armed, allowed the protestors aboard. Armed Nigerian
forces remained on the barge and in control at all times. The
protesters told Chevron Nigeria to negotiate with their elders on
shore, and the company representatives eventually did meet with
them. At the end of that time, the elders believed that Chevron
had begun to address their concerns and sent messengers out to
the protesters on the platform instructing them to come home the
next morning, which the protesters told Chevron they would be
doing. The protestors were preparing to leave when the attack
occurred at daybreak on May 28, 1998.
Chevron-Paid Security Forces Continue to Use Violence Against
Long after this incident, Chevron has continued to use the
Nigerian police and military to attack civilians protesting its
activities. The United Nations Special Rapporteur and Amnesty
International reported that in 2005 Chevron security forces
attacked civilians protesting Chevron's activities. One person
was shot and killed and at least 30 others were seriously
injured. - Report of United Nations Special Rapporteur for the
Commission on Human Rights, Jan. 7, 2006; Amnesty International,
Nigeria, Ten Years On: Injustice and Violence Haunt the Oil
Delta, Nov. 3, 2005
Bowoto v. Chevron:
International Human Rights Litigation Fact Sheet
What Should Chevron Do?
http://www.earthrights.org * http://www.CCRjustice.org
Chevron operates in or near many communities in Nigeria and
throughout the world. These communities often have not approved
or even actively oppose Chevron's presence, and in some cases
have suffered environmental and economic devastation due to
Chevron's oil production. Chevron pays lip service to supporting
the communities where they work. But the truth is that they do
very little to "support" these communities and virtually nothing
to compensate the communities they have harmed. In 2007,
Chevron's total support for the communities where they work
worldwide was approximately two days' of the oil giant's profits.
Two days. And when Nigerian villagers protest Chevron's
extraction of profits and destruction of their communities,
Chevron relies on the brutal Nigerian police and military to
With billions of dollars in quarterly profits, Chevron can take a
number of reasonable steps to fulfill its responsibilities to the
affected communities in Nigeria, in addition to compensating
those harmed by its past actions. These steps should include both
remediating the environmental and economic harms it causes and
stopping future abuses against protestors by the Nigerian
1. Direct Support for the Communities
The Ilaje people who demonstrated at the Parabe platform in 1998
did so in reaction to Chevron's failure to meet a number of
specific demands, many of which are still applicable today,
- Rehabilitate the environment around their communities,
including by restoring a natural land barrier which kept sea
water from intruding into creeks that local people depend on for
fishing and drinking water, by reforesting mangroves, palms and
other economic trees, and dredging sea-related sludge out of
- Create job skills for local people by training them to assist
in the clean up and environmental rehabilitation.
- Complete and follow environmental impact assessments before
expanding current operations in any way.
- Install electricity in the riverine communities.
- Build and provide appropriate staffing & supplies for a
hospital, including funding for ongoing operations.
- Provide potable water within 15 minutes' paddle of each of the
- Train and employ people from each of the affected communities
in real jobs, where they learn transferable skills.
- Build and provide ongoing funding for schools and teachers in
the affected communities.
- Quadruple the annual scholarships provided to the affected
2. Increase Transparency and Accountability for Human Rights
In litigation in California state court, Mr. Bowoto is asking for
an order requiring Chevron U.S. to make a number of specific
steps toward transparency and accountability aimed at
discouraging Chevron from using the Nigerian police and military
to attack and intimidate local communities. These include:
- Mandate documenting and reporting of incidents where Chevron
has paid or supported Nigerian military and police who have
committed or are accused of committing human rights abuses and/or
using excessive force, including all incidents in which Nigerian
residents are accused of suffering physical injuries as a result.
This includes reporting of the incidents themselves as well as
all steps taken to investigate, to reprimand those involved
within Chevron Nigeria and/or the Nigerian police and military,
and to remedy any harm or damage caused. These reports must be
made publicly available, including on Chevron's website within 7
days of any reported incident and supplemented thereafter as any
investigation and remedial steps occur.
- Require Chevron to investigate all alleged incidents of human
rights abuses within 5 days and if the allegations are
substantiated, take steps to immediately remove any Nigerian
police or military implicated from any further use, payment or
support by Chevron Nigeria, as well as implement any other
remedies or changes indicated by the investigation as reasonably
likely to prevent future incidents.
- Require Chevron U.S. to assess human rights policies as part
of evaluating Chevron Nigeria's managing director and as part of
any other evaluations done of Chevron Nigeria's personnel as part
of promotion or advancement within any Chevron company. The
company must also include a similar human rights assessment as
part of yearly security audits of Chevron Nigeria.
- Ensure that Chevron's accounting records clearly reflect any
payment or the provision of logistical support to the Nigerian
military or police.
- Mandate a new security review by objective third party experts
of Chevron's operations in Nigeria to determine whether it is
practicable to secure Chevron's facilities and personnel in
Nigeria without paying or providing logistical support to the
Nigerian military and police and to recommend procedures to
lessen the likelihood of human rights abuses and the use of
- Require Chevron to report on its website within five days of
any action taken by Chevron Nigeria that the company knows,
through it's own environmental impact studies or otherwise, is or
is likely to negatively impact the local environment for any
Landmark Human Rights Case Bowoto V. Chevron Begins in Federal
Environmental and Human Rights Activists Available to Comment
October 28, 2008
New York, Riptide Communications: David Lerner,
email@example.com or Sara Koenig,
San Francisco, Full Court Press: Jordan Pierce,
firstname.lastname@example.org 510-550-8176; mobile, 510-593-5785
October 28, 2008, San Francisco, CA - In opening statements heard
today in U.S. District Court for the landmark case, Bowoto v.
Chevron, the oil giant, which stands accused of wrongful death,
torture and cruel treatment, continued to repeat unfounded
allegations while denying its complicity in severe human rights
abuses. Chevron is charged with paying the Nigerian military to
shoot, torture and kill peaceful protestors in an incident that
took place on the offshore Parabe drilling platform over ten
years ago. In 1998, lead plaintiff Larry Bowoto and more than 100
members of the local Ilaje fishing communities went to the oil
platform to protest the environmental damage and economic
disruption Chevron's oil production activities had brought to
their homes in the Niger Delta. While Chevron's own memos state
that the protestors were peaceful, the multinational went to
court with contradictory statements.
Paul Donowitz, EarthRights International's Campaigns Coordinator
is available for interview and issued the following statement:
"The protestors on the Parabe oil platform were unarmed and
peaceful, a fact confirmed by Chevron's own internal documents.
These protestors were merely seeking redress for the devastating
environmental and economic harm caused by Chevron's destructive
practices in the Niger Delta. Chevron's response in 1998 was to
transport, closely supervise, and pay the brutal Nigerian "kill
and go" military, who shot unarmed villagers. Their response
today is no less brutal - using lies, distortions and outright
fabrications, Chevron is attempting to deceive the public and
obscure the truth about their operations in Nigeria."
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