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USA/Nigeria: Chevron on Trial

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Oct 31, 2008 (081031)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

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: and

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 Delta (, 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 or

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Bowoto v. Chevron:
International Human Rights Litigation Fact Sheet

First They Poisoned Our Land
When We Protested, They Shot Us *

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 attacks.

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 potable water.

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 Protestors

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 Nigerian Villagers

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? *

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 suppress dissent.

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 military.

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, including :

  • 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 river.
  • 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 affected communities.
  • 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 communities.

2. Increase Transparency and Accountability for Human Rights Abuses

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 excessive force.
  • 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 Nigerian community.

Media Availability

Landmark Human Rights Case Bowoto V. Chevron Begins in Federal Court

Environmental and Human Rights Activists Available to Comment

October 28, 2008


New York, Riptide Communications: David Lerner, or Sara Koenig, 212-260-5000

San Francisco, Full Court Press: Jordan Pierce, 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."

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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