Esther Kiobel Amnesty International

The Hague: Esther Kiobel vows to continue her campaign for justice

Human rights defender Esther Kiobel today lost her civil case against oil giant Shell, which she accuses of complicity in the 1995 execution of her husband by the Nigerian military government, but has promised to continue her campaign for justice. Esther has spent 27 years seeking justice for her husband Dr Barinem Kiobel, who was hanged along with eight other men in connection with widespread protests against oil pollution in the Niger Delta.  

These extraordinarily brave women are not giving up. Their voices have been heard. They should be commended for the invaluable work they have done to highlight the global culture of impunity for multinationals accused of human rights abuses

Mark Dummett, Head of Business and Human Rights at Amnesty International

At a witness hearing in 2019, three men told the Dutch court that Shell and the Nigerian government had given them money and offered them other bribes in order to incriminate Esther’s husband and eight other men, known collectively as the “Ogoni Nine”. But today, the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Shell had been involved. 

Esther Kiobel brought the case against Shell along with three other women, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula, whose husbands were also executed in 1995. Amnesty International’s research into the historic injustice has revealed how Shell’s requests for ‘assistance’ in handling environmental protests led to a brutal government crackdown, culminating in the arrests and unlawful executions of the women’s husbands, as well as renowned activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and four other men.  

“This is a disappointing outcome, but these extraordinarily brave women are not giving up. Their voices have been heard. They should be commended for their resilience and unbreaking commitment to exposing the truth, and for the invaluable work they have done to highlight the global culture of impunity for multinationals accused of human rights abuses,” said Mark Dummett, Head of Business and Human Rights at Amnesty International. 

The fact that it took more than twenty years for a court to hear Esther’s argument is a grim indictment of how corporations are able to evade accountability for terrible crimes and human rights abuses

Mark Dummett

“It has taken years of legal wrangling for Esther Kiobel to get Shell to face her in a courtroom. Shell tried every trick in the book, from disputing jurisdiction to refusing to hand over crucial documents. The fact that it took more than twenty years for a court to hear Esther’s argument is a grim indictment of how corporations are able to evade accountability for terrible crimes and human rights abuses. Despite the ruling today, Esther’s battle for justice has not been in vain – her persistence represents a powerful argument for change. Governments must do more to hold companies accountable for human rights abuses, and make it possible for the victims to seek justice.” 

Esther Kiobel fled Nigeria and settled in the US following her husband’s killing. She first filed a case against Shell in New York in 2002, but in 2013 the US Supreme Court ruled that the US did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. In 2017, Amnesty International supported Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula in bringing a new case against Shell in the Netherlands. The four plaintiffs accused Shell of being instrumental in the unlawful arrest and detention of their husbands; the violation of their husbands’ physical integrity; and the violation of their right to a fair trial and to life, and their own right to a family life. The case was held up when Shell refused to hand over crucial documents relating to the case, and it was not until 2019 that the District Court of The Hague heard the women’s arguments for the first time. 

One of the many tragedies in this case is that spills from Shell’s oil fields are still wreaking havoc in the Niger Delta

Mark Dummett

Amnesty International has extensively detailed Shell’s role in the crackdown in Ogoniland. In a 2017 report, it found that Shell repeatedly encouraged the Nigerian military to deal with protests, even when it knew this would lead to atrocities including killings, rape, torture, and the burning of villages. In the midst of these horrors, Shell provided the military with material support, and in at least one instance paid a military commander notorious for human rights violations.  

Amnesty International has also exposed evidence of serious negligence by Shell, whose irresponsible approach to oil spills in the Niger Delta has exacerbated an environmental crisis and led to devastating pollution for Ogoni communities.  

“One of the many tragedies in this case is that spills from Shell’s oil fields are still wreaking havoc in the Niger Delta. The company says it is now leaving the region and is looking for a buyer. Before doing so it needs to finally pay heed to the demands of the communities there – and clean up its dirty legacy,” said Mark Dummett.  

“Shell has thrown millions at the multiple lawsuits it is facing, but money will not be enough to clear its name.”