Victims of Egregious Human Rights Abuses Sought Redress in US Courts & Will Appeal in Bowoto v. ChevronSite of protests, Chevron drilling platform

In December 2008, almost ten years after the events, and after four weeks of trial, a jury in federal court in San Francisco found Chevron not liable for the shootings, killings and torture of unarmed, peaceful protesters on a Chevron oil platform off the Niger Delta in 1998.  Plaintiffs have filed a motion requesting a new trial based on a number of legal and evidentiary issues that emerged in the proceedings.  Judge Illston will hear oral arguments on the matter on March 6, 2009.

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 by Chevron and supervised by Chevron personnel. Two protesters were killed in the brutal attack – one shot in the back - and others were injured, including some who were tortured while in custody. Another protester brought claims based on the subsequent torture inflicted on him by the Nigerian authorities. The protesters, Ilaje of Ondo State, went to the platform in hopes of convincing Chevron to meet with them to discuss the environmental and economic devastation caused by Chevron’s oil producing activities in their communities after unsuccessful attempts to discuss their grievances with the company.

“[Chevron] just had to act in a reasonable, nonviolent way.  And they chose not to.  They didn't want to be held accountable in the press in 1998, so they lied.  They don't want to be held accountable now,” Plaintiffs’ counsel Dan Stormer said in closing arguments Tuesday.

Brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), this lawsuit is part of a trend towards increased corporate accountability for abuses abroad.  The ATS allows victims of serious human rights abuses abroad to seek redress in U.S. courts. While the jury did not find in favor of the plaintiffs, the aiding and abetting theory under which Chevron was accused makes clear that corporations can be held liable for abuses committed by third parties, including security personnel abroad. 

“Although the plaintiffs did not prevail today, Chevron now knows that it cannot conceal complicity in human rights abuses from public scrutiny,” said Richard Herz, an attorney at EarthRights International and co-counsel for the plaintiffs “The fact that this case went to trial at all is a victory for human rights, and a tribute to the courage and persistence of these plaintiffs. We are hopeful that the legacy of this important case is that Chevron will change its behavior in the places where it operates.”

This case does not spell the end of Chevron’s trouble for its environmental and human rights obligations. Another lawsuit against Chevron over its security practices in Nigeria is pending in California state court in San Francisco. Chevron has also been beset by charges from communities in Nigeria, Burma, Ecuador and elsewhere that its practices and activities have polluted rivers, destroyed livelihoods and food supplies, led to widespread human rights abuses, and other serious claims. Chevron, then known as Unocal, previously settled a lawsuit in 2004, brought by victims of human rights abuses along Chevron’s Yadana pipeline in Burma, and are currently accused in a court in Ecuador of massive environmental pollution of indigenous communities in the Amazon.

Plaintiffs law firms: Hadsell, Stormer, Keeny, Richardson & Renick; Traber & Voorhees; Siegel & Yee; the Electronic Frontier Foundation; the Center for Constitutional Rights; Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman; the Law Offices of Judith Brown Chomsky and EarthRights International.