Oil-Exploitation in Nigeria - Procedures Addressing Human Rights Abuses

University essay from Lunds universitet/Juridiska institutionen

Author: Malin Käll; [2003]

Keywords: Folkrätt; Law and Political Science;

Abstract: Nigeria is a federal state with 36 states and 1 territory, the Abuja Federal Capital Territory. Nigeria is Africa's most populous country&semic the population is estimated to be around 130 million. More than 250 ethnic groups live in the country. The most populous and politically influential are Hausa and Fulani (29%), Yoruba (21%) and Igbo (often called Ibo, 18%). About 50% of the population is Muslim, 40% Christian and indigenous beliefs stands for 10% of the population. The legal system is based on English common law, Islamic Shariah law (only in some northern states), and traditional law. Chapter 2 concerning oil-exploitation starts with describing the effect of oil-exploitation in the oil-producing states surrounding the Niger-Delta during the 1990s. The environment was seriously affected through oil-spills and construction of canals, roads and pipe-lines. Flaring of gas had a serious impact on the lives of peoples, plants and animals. In recent years flaring of gas has decreased rapidly due to an increased commercial value of natural gas. Ordinary people did not benefit from oil-exploitation. Much of the profit was distributed to the Government from the oil-corporations, but corrupted politicians have put the money in their own pockets instead of using it for the good of the people. Frustrated over the situation resistance movement emerged within the communities. The most famous is the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP. Clashes between locals and the military, police and security staff emerged. Competition for benefits from the oil-corporations also created conflicts between and within communities. Oil-corporations allegedly supported the military and police. At least they tolerated their use of force and benefited from the human rights violations. To emphasise that not much have changed on the ground since the 1990s I have written a separate section called ''Developments during the 21st century'' in which I look at the current situation. After looking at the actual effect of oil-exploitation I will give an overview on the human rights violations connected to oil-exploitation in the region. Chapters 2.2 and 2.3 deal with different procedures that have been used to bring recognition to the human rights violations, remedies to the victims and also to prevent future human rights violations. Due to the influence of the Military Government over the police and the judiciary there were no prosecution of individuals using force. Nigerian Courts have however been able to adjudicate on compensation for environmental pollution from oil-corporations. I will look through some of these cases. Nigerian courts have come to fair decisions, but the procedure is too long and expensive for the courts to offer an effective remedy for victims. There is also one very interesting case concerning compensation from the Federal Government to the states for oil and natural gas derived from their areas. The case took an unexpected turn when the Court concluded that the locals did not have any right whatsoever to claim compensation, in spite of the effort by the legislator to protect such a right in the constitution. On the national level there have also been a number of non-judicial procedures. The Nigerian Government has a habit of instigating different inquiries and commission into situations involving human rights abuses. These have often come to fair conclusions, but their recommendations have not been implemented. The case has gained international attention. A civil suit has been brought in the US by Nigerian nationals against Abubakar, the former head if state in Nigeria under the Alien Tort Claims Act. The Court found that it had jurisdiction concerning most of the allegations. One set-back was however that Abubakar was given immunity for alleged international crimes during his time as Head of State. A communication was also sent to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. The decision by the Commission is an important step towards recognising social rights as true enforceable human rights and the relationship between a clean environment and respect for human rights. The major problem is however the delay by the Commission before it came with a final decision. Chapter three starts with a description of the murder of the four Ogoni leaders after an international conflict within the local movement. Other Ogoni leaders, including the MOSOP President Ken Saro-Wiwa, were accused of the murders. After a long detention under inhuman conditions a military tribunal, The Ogoni Civil Disturbances Tribunal, was established to try the accused. The trial was marked by a number of human rights violations. The defence tried to object to violations of fundamental rights both in the Tribunal and in regular courts without success. Most of the accused were sentenced to death and executed. Relatives of the executed have brought a suit under the Alien Tort Claims Act, the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act against Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Shell in the US. The suits have so far been successful in establishing personal and subject matter jurisdiction. There is not yet a decision on the merits. Communications were also sent by human rights organisation to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, both previous to the establishment of the Tribunal and during the trial. Due to a long delay the African Commission did not give its final decision until long after the executions. The UN-system also became involved at an early stage. One important step taken was the sending of a fact-finding mission to Nigeria. International attention made several governments impose sanctions against Nigeria. Oil-sanctions were however not imposed. It is not the direct effect of these procedures that is important. What makes a difference is that they together make the public aware and the human rights violators feel watched. It is when these procedures are combined with the efforts of NGOs and media that human rights violations can be prevented and victims supported.

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