Nigerian widows sue Shell for complicity in activist deaths

Esther Kiobel speaks to reporters outside The Hague Civil Court, the Netherlands, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Esther Kiobel, with three other widows of Nigerian activists, hav opened a civil court case against oil company Shell, alleging it was complicit in the deaths of their husbands more than two decades ago. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The widow of a Nigerian activist executed by their country's government more than two decades ago accused oil giant Shell of complicity in his death at a civil case in a Dutch court Tuesday.

"Shell came into my life to make me a poverty-stricken widow," Esther Kiobel told judges at a one-day hearing.

"With this case I seek justice for my murdered husband so that he can be exonerated from a crime he never committed," she added.

Kiobel, along with Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula, is seeking an apology and compensation from Shell. Only two of them were in court today, the other two could not get visas to leave Nigeria.

Their husbands were among nine activists from the Ogoni tribe, led by writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, who were hanged in 1995 after a military tribunal convicted them for the murder of four political rivals.

Supporters say they were targeted because of their involvement in protests against environmental damage by Shell's Nigerian subsidiary, known as SPDC.

In a written statement, the company denied involvement and said the company appealed in vain for clemency to Nigeria's military rulers at the time.

"SPDC did not collude with the authorities to suppress community unrest, it in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria, and it had no role in the arrest, trial and execution of these men," the statement said. "We believe that the evidence clearly shows that Shell was not responsible for these distressing events."

It is not the first time relatives of the relatives of Ogoni activists have pursued Shell in court.

In 2009, Royal Dutch Shell agreed to a $15.5 million settlement to end a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in New York alleging that the oil giant was complicit in the nine executions.

Shell acknowledged no wrongdoing at the time, but said it agreed to settle the lawsuit in hopes of aiding the "process of reconciliation."

Kiobel said outside court she was glad to have finally been able to address judges considering the case.

"It was great," she said. "I was glad that I was given time to speak."

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