Bowoto v. Chevron is a landmark human rights case that went to trial in a US federal court in San Francisco in October 2008. Brought under the Alien Tort Statute, the suit seeks to hold Chevron accountable for serious human rights violations committed abroad. Chevron was charged with egregious human rights abuses arising from its complicity with the notorious Nigerian military and "kill and go" mobile police against members of the Ilaje community of the Niger Delta. The Ilaje were protesting environmental and economic damage caused by Chevron's oil producing activities in their area community.
The lawsuit is based on a 1998 incident in which Nigerian soldiers shot nonviolent protesters at Chevron's Parabe offshore platform. The soldiers were paid by Chevron, ferried to the platform in Chevron-leased helicopters, and supervised by Chevron personnel. Two protesters were killed in the brutal attack and others were injured and subsequently tortured.
After ten long years, the trial provided the Nigerian villagers with the opportunity to confront the oil giant and demand public accountability for the company's involvement in gross human rights abuses. The plaintiffs sought compensation for the murders and the injuries suffered. A related case also sought ongoing transparency by Chevron about its use of the Nigerian police and military.
Although U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston had previously found that there was sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find Chevron liable for the human rights abuses suffered by the plaintiffs, in November 2008 a jury found in favor of the defendants on all charges. The plaintiffs have now filed a notice of appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and are seeking a new trial due to improper conduct by Chevron’s lawyers and other irregularities. Nonetheless, regardless of the outcome of the appeal, the case has established and reinforced important rules supporting accountability of parent corporations for actions taken nominally by their foreign subsidiaries, and basic principles of international human rights law.