Archive for June 9, 2009

sarowiwa

Human rights experts believe that Shell bought its way out of the trial because was concerned about the evidence stacked against the company in relation to the brutal murder of nine leaders of the Ogoni tribe in southern Nigeria in 1992.

Amongst the murdered was Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian author, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize. He also was a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic Nigerian minority whose hometown, Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta has been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s and which has suffered extreme and unremediated environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate oil waste dumping.

Initially as spokesperson, and then as President, of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and natural waters of Ogoniland by the operations of multinational oil companies, especially Shell. He was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, which he viewed as reluctant to enforce proper environmental regulations on the foreign oil companies operating in the area.

At the peak of his non-violent campaign, Saro-Wiwa was arrested, hastily tried by a special military tribunal, and hanged in 1995 by the Nigerian military government of General Sani Abacha, all on charges widely viewed as entirely politically motivated and completely unfounded. His execution provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations.

Beginning in 1996, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), EarthRights International (ERI), and a number of human rights attorneys brought a series of cases to hold Shell accountable for human rights violations in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary arrest and detention. The lawsuits were brought against Royal Dutch Shell and Brian Anderson, the head of its Nigerian operation.

The legal basis for the cases was the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 statute giving non-U.S. citizens the right to file suits in U.S. courts for international human rights violations, and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows individuals to seek damages in the U.S. for torture or extrajudicial killing, regardless of where the violations take place.

Shell made many attempts to have these cases thrown out of court, which the plaintiffs all defeated. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York set a trial date of June, 2009. On 9 June 2009, Shell agreed to an out of court settlement of US$15.5 million to victims’ families, although Shell denied any liability for the deaths, stating that the payment was “part of a reconciliation process”.

While the bulk of the settlement will be distributed to the families of the murdered activists, some of it (US$5 million) will be used to set up a trust called Kiisi – meaning “progress” in the Ogoni Gokana language – to support educational and other initiatives in the Niger delta.

Further reading:

Shell pays out $15.5m over Saro-Wiwa killing – The Guardian

Politicians and the press produce a lot of words about war, but those mirror the reality of politicians and the press, not the reality of war. Two examples: every Sunday the Washington Post publishes “Iraq War Deaths” – they don’t mean Irqis’ deaths. The Pentagon is concerned about the deaths of Afghan civilians – but only in the context of them having a negative effect on the Pentagon’s military aims. Norman Solomon reflects below on the different realities between war and words about war.

Afghanistan

Jun 08, 2009 By Norman Solomon
Norman Solomon’s ZSpace PageZSpace

It takes at least tacit faith in massive violence to believe that after three decades of horrendous violence in Afghanistan, upping the violence there will improve the situation.

Despite the pronouncements from high Washington places that the problems of Afghanistan can’t be solved by military means, 90 percent of the spending for Afghanistan in the Obama administration’s current supplemental bill is military.

Often it seems that lofty words about war hopes are boilerplate efforts to make us feel better about an endless warfare state. Oratory and punditry laud the Pentagon’s fallen as noble victims of war, while enveloping its other victims in a haze of ambiguity or virtual nonexistence.

When last Sunday’s edition of the Washington Post printed the routine headline “Iraq War Deaths,” the newspaper meant American deaths — to Washington’s ultra-savvy, the deaths that really count. The only numbers and names under the headline were American.

Ask for whom the bell tolls. That’s the implicit message — from top journalists and politicians alike.

A few weeks ago, some prominent U.S. news stories did emerge about Pentagon air strikes that killed perhaps a hundred Afghan civilians. But much of the emphasis was that such deaths could undermine the U.S. war effort. The most powerful media lenses do not correct the myopia when Uncle Sam’s vision is impaired by solipsism and narcissism.

Words focus our attention. The official words and the media words — routinely, more or less the same words — are ostensibly about war, but they convey little about actual war at the same time that they boost it. Words are one thing, and war is another.

Yet words have potential to impede the wheels of war machinery. “And henceforth,” Albert Camus wrote, “the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.”

A very different type of gamble is routinely underway at the centers of political power, where words are propaganda munitions. In Washington, the default preference is to gamble with the lives of other people, far away.

More than 40 years ago, Country Joe McDonald wrote a song (“An Untitled Protest”) about war fighters: who “pound their feet into the sand of shores they’ve never seen / Delegates from the western land to join the death machine.” Now, tens of thousands more of such delegates are on the way to Afghanistan.

In pseudo-savvy Washington, “appearance is reality.” Killing and maiming, fueled by appropriations and silence, are rendered as abstractions.

The deaths of people unaligned with the Pentagon are the most abstract of all. No wonder the Washington Post is still printing headlines like “Iraq War Deaths.” Why should Iraqis qualify for inclusion in Iraq war deaths?

There’s plenty more media invisibility and erasure ahead for Afghan people as the Pentagon ramps up its war effort in their country.

War thrives on abstractions that pass for reality.

There are facts about war in news media and in presidential speeches. For that matter, there are plenty of facts in the local phone book. How much do they tell you about the most important human realities?

Millions of words and factual data pour out of the Pentagon every day. Human truth is another matter.

My father, Morris Solomon, recently had his ninetieth birthday. He would be the first to tell you that his brain has lost a lot of capacity. He doesn’t recall nearly as many facts as he used to. But a couple of days ago, he told me: “I know what war is. It’s stupid. It’s ruining humanity.”

That’s not appearance. It’s reality.

Norman Solomon’s books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,” which has been adapted into a documentary film. For more information, go to: www.normansolomon.com

This stuff really makes depressing reading – an article by John Sauven in today’s Guardian:

brazilian rain forest destruction

The Brazilian government is legalising deforestation and western superbrands are benefiting from it. This needs to stop now!

Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, writing in the Guardian in March, offered us these words of hope: “No country has a larger stake in reversing the impact of global warming than Brazil. That is why it is at the forefront of efforts to come up with solutions that preserve our common future.” Lula’s words are fine. But we are still waiting for real action.

For the last 10 years, Greenpeace has been working in the Amazon alongside communities to protect the rainforest. Last week, Greenpeace released a report which was the result of a three-year investigation into the role of the cattle industry in driving illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The report, Slaughtering the Amazon, reveals the devastating impacts cattle ranching is having on the climate, biodiversity and local communities.

Cattle ranching is the biggest cause of deforestation, not only in the Amazon, but worldwide. The report reveals that the Brazilian government is a silent partner in these crimes by providing loans to and holding shares in the three biggest players – Bertin, JBS and Marfrig – that are driving expansion into the Amazon rainforest.

Greenpeace is now about to enter into negotiations with many of the companies that have either found their supply chain and products contaminated with Amazon leather and beef or who are buying from companies implicated in Amazon deforestation – big brands such as Adidas, Clarks, Nike, Timberland and most of the major UK supermarkets. Meanwhile, back in Brazil, the federal prosecutor in Para state has announced legal action against farms and slaughterhouses that have acted outside of the law. It has sent warning letters to Brazilian companies buying and profiting from the destruction. Bertin and JBS are in the firing line – companies part-owned by the Brazilian government.

While this is a positive step, it’s clear that we can’t bring about real change and win an end to Amazon destruction for cattle without real action from the government and from big corporations in Europe and the US, who are providing the markets.

Another, worrying example of the widening chasm between rhetoric and reality is a new bill that has just passed through the Brazilian senate. If Lula gives his consent, it will legalise claims to at least 67m hectares of Amazonian land — an area the size of Norway and Germany put together – that is currently held illegally. A second bill, before the Brazilian congress, proposes to more than double the percentage of Amazon rainforest that can be cleared legally within a property. If passed, the effect of both these bills will be to legalise increased deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

Lula’s decision to fund the cattle ranching industry with public money makes no sense when its expansion threatens the very deforestation reduction targets that Lula champions. The laws now waiting for his approval will represent a free ride for illegal loggers and cattle ranchers. It is clear that Brazil now faces a choice about what sort of world leader it wants to be – part of the problem or part of the solution.

Protecting Brazil’s rainforest is a critical part of the battle to tackle climate change and must be part of a global deal to protect forests at the climate change talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year. But while world leaders are making speeches, we are losing vast tracts of rainforest. We must also tackle the dirty industries that are driving deforestation if we are to protect the Amazon and the climate for future generations.

[Image: Joanna B. Pinneo—Aurora/Getty Images]