by MONITOR “CORPORATIONS, no matter how powerful, will be held to human rights standards” - the view of the Centre for Constitutional Rights on Monday after the giant oil company Shell had reached an out-of court settlement in a human rights action against it in New York. The settlement was the conclusion of a thirteen-years long lawsuit by the Centre on behalf of nine Nigerians whose family members had been executed in 1996 by the Nigerian military government - allegedly with the knowledge of Shell which was developing an oil field in the Niger Delta. In reaching the settlement of 15 million dollars compensation to the plaintiffs Shell continued to insist that it had committed no wrong-doing but wanted to look forward rather than fight over the past. Another organisation involved in the case, Oil Change
International, commented: “Shell knew the case against them was overwhelming so they bought their way out of it.” The case was brought in New York because US law permits overseas nationals to sue companies registered in the United States for breach of human rights. The outcome will be examined carefully by other corporations developing comparable activities overseas. In the Shell case the local Ogoni tribe believed that its land had been illegally taken, its environment abused and, ultimately, nine of its men executed for protesting against the development. Clearly, large-scale intrusive developments in the Third World cannot ignore human rights even if the local government is prepared to override them.