Monday, June 29, 2009

Oil company settles suit over deaths of activists

Shell Settles Nigeria Case
Oil Giant to Pay $15.5 Million Over Deaths of Activists

June 10, 2009

Royal Dutch Shell PLC agreed Monday to pay $15.5 million to settle a lawsuit over the 1995 deaths of Nigerian author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and others.

The Anglo-Dutch oil giant faced a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan under the Alien Tort Claims Act, on allegations that it was complicit in the 1995 deaths of Mr. Saro-Wiwa and other activists. The lawsuit was brought by family members and surviving activists.

Shell has denied it played any role in the execution of Mr. Saro-Wiwa by the military government. In a statement, Malcolm Brinded, head of the company's exploration and production unit, said: "Shell has always maintained the allegations were false. While we were prepared to go to court to clear our name, we believe the right way forward is to focus on the future for Ogoni people, which is important for peace and stability in the region."

A massive oil spill in Ogoniland in 1970 inspired Mr. Saro-Wiwa, founder of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People to launch two decades later a campaign against Shell's Nigerian onshore unit. The campaign led to the abandoning of oil production in Ogoniland in 1993.

The Ogonis' plight was the focus of global criticism of the oil industry when Mr. Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists were executed by a Nigerian military regime in 1995.

Plaintiffs said $5 million of the settlement amount would go into a trust fund for the Ogoni people and the balance for lawyers fees and to the 10 plaintiffs who brought the case.

"It has been a good case to help set the foundation for allowing human rights plaintiffs to get some degree of accountability from corporations," said Paul Hoffman, the trial counsel for the plaintiffs.

Mr. Hoffman said the plaintiffs decided to settle because "after 13 years, they believed this was a satisfactory result."

"The settlement prevented another four or five years of waiting [for appeals]. This is a fair way to resolve their claims and move on with their lives," he said.

The Alien Tort Claims Act is a legal statute that dates back to 1789, when Congress enacted the law to ensure the newborn nation would abide by international laws. It allows foreigners -- or aliens -- to bring suit in U.S. courts charging violations of international laws.

The law sat largely unused until recent years, when lawyers began to use it as a tool to seek justice in U.S. courts for people who claim to be mistreated overseas.

In another test of the statute's applicability, a San Francisco federal jury ruled in December that Chevron Corp. wasn't legally responsible under the act for the brutal treatment by the Nigerian military of protesters on an offshore Chevron oil facility in 1998.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Indigenous group of people

The tragedy of being tribal in India
By Sadanand Menon:
Business Standard
New Delhi
June 26

Millennia ago, a certain warrior-teacher, fearing the superiority of a tribal lad’s martial skills over that of his own urbane students, demanded the gift of the lad’s right thumb in return for transgressing codes of civil and caste hierarchy. The story of Dronacharya and Ekalavya is etched in most Indian minds. Many of us might even have wept at this injustice as we heard the mythological fable in our childhood. Of course, the sentimentalism blinded us to the reality of the here and now. The almost nine percent tribal population of the nation continues to be asked to part with more than its thumb.

Tribals across the country are being asked to part with their forests, lands and livelihood to make way for ‘development’. They constitute the largest percentage today of the internally displaced people. National Parks, dams, large mines, SEZs — it is the tribal zones that are up for grabs. They are now beginning to consolidate and resist. Muthanga in Kerala where they came out with their bows and arrows and Lalgarh in West Bengal now, with a large number of adivasis merely carrying sticks and axes, are just the surface manifestations of decades of aggression the ‘civilised’ have practiced over the ‘savage’.

There is a rousing music-video by documentary filmmaker K P Sashi which has become popular on You-tube. It compresses the plight of tribals into a six-minute montage, with the main slogan ‘We won’t give up our lands, we won’t give up our forests, nor will we give up our struggle’. It poses a critique of the mainstream capitalist development model which took just a few decades to destroy the forests and rivers that the tribals and their ancestors had preserved for centuries. It almost suggests why the nation needs to rethink from a tribal perspective if it has to save itself. One can see it progressively emerging as an anthem in the days to come.

It is also pertinent that both CK Janu and M Geethanandan who head tribal organizations in Kerala like the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha and the Bhoo Parishkarana Samithi have called for an “immediate cessation of the joint military action against the people of Lalgarh to capture tribal lands”. They have proclaimed that the claim of ‘flushing out’ Maoists is merely a ploy to grab lands of the impoverished population of the region. They have alleged a secret deal between the governments at the Centre and the state with Jindal Steel Limited to hand over 5,000 acres of land to the company in return for multi-crore investments.

Obviously, the ‘Tribal Question’ is coming to a boil. It is certainly extraordinary how, in recent years, tribals seem to be of use only for getting us some Olympic gold medals in archery or hockey. Otherwise, the insights of a social-anthropologist like Verrier Elwin who lived amongst Gonds, Bastars, Marias and Mundas in the 1940s and wrote so movingly about their life and customs has made no impact on national consciousness. Typically, after the painstaking work of Elwin, no Indian academic has chosen to extend his work. It was left to literary personalities like Mahasveta Devi and GN Devy to carry on that task. The detailed research work of the Chaibasa Research Centre stands ignored. The nation-state merely set up an oppositional stance with tribal regions, which explains the waves of collective disaffection in the North-East as well as in the Chota Nagpur Plateau. The State did manage to neutralise the 1980s tribal uprisings of the Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh Mukti Morchas and incorporate them within the ‘national’ developmental framework. But that still leaves a large number of poor human beings crushed and decimated at the margins.

As for Lalgarh, it was perhaps just a matter of time before the mainstream Indian Left was dealt some preliminary lessons on the meaning of ‘alienation’. Those with basic familiarity with Marxism would know about the Marxian concept of alienation which is the cornerstone of Marx’s political philosophy. One would have expected the CPM in West Bengal, for example, to have internalised this and to have taken measures to see that their governance mitigated aspects of alienation amongst the subalterns. Instead, now, as events in Lalgarh unfold, it seems clear that even after thirty years and more of Left rule in the state, they have simply had no clue about how to deal with its 11 percent tribal population.

Even if you never go to those regions, just look at those faces and bodies that are now flooding your newspapers and TV screens. Gaunt, emaciated, barefoot, and in tatters. Thousands of them. By what alchemy did they become ‘enemies of the Left’ or of the nation? Do the poor not fit into the idea of the proletariat? If you don’t speak up for them, the Maoists might. But don’t wait for the day they begin to speak up for themselves. That will be another day.

p.s. The writer is a critically acclaimed cultural commentator. He is also adored by his students at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, India.

Update: July 16th. Read TK Arun's scathing opinion in The Economic Times
Lalgarh and the crisis of the Left

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

China Censors Again

Media censored on Tiananmen

By Kathrin Hille in Beijing and Tom Mitchell in Hong Kong
Financial Times
Published: June 2 2009 17:28

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, China is censoring foreign media and the internet to an extent not seen since the crackdown that preceded the Beijing Olympics.

Government agencies are banning delivery of foreign newspapers, disrupting satellite news broadcasts and blocking internet sites including Twitter and Hotmail in a campaign apparently aimed at extinguishing every reference to the 1989 pro-democracy student movement, which the People’s Liberation Army suppressed on June 4 of that year.

BBC News broadcasts were blacked out in Beijing on Monday night. Last Saturday’s edition of the Financial Times, which contained an interview with Bao Tong, the most prominent Tiananmen-era dissident still residing in China, was either not delivered to subscribers or censored. Mr Bao was an aide to Zhao Ziyang, the late party general secretary purged in May 1989 for opposing the violent crackdown. Copies of the International Herald Tribune and Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, which has dedicated extensive coverage to the anniversary, have been shredded. The government has censored Tiananmen-related stories on, the FT’s Chinese language website.

Most of the information plaguing censors is flowing in from Hong Kong, one of only two Chinese special administrative regions where freedom of press and assembly is still respected.

In contrast to the state-enforced amnesia in China, civic organisations in Hong Kong are marking the anniversary with marches, speeches, art shows and rallies, which will culminate in a vigil on Thursday night.

“If you do not respect the dead … you cannot respect the living,” Cardinal Joseph Zen, a persona non grata in China for his uncompromising stance on freedom and democracy, said in an address to Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club this week. “I feel very proud that Hong Kong people are [so] stubborn in celebrating the anniversary.”

”There is still sufficient room for us to fight for a more democratic system [in Hong Kong],” Albert Ho, chairman of the territory’s Democratic party, told an academic conference. “I think the experience of Hong Kong will serve as a useful model for [democratic development in] China.”

Blanket bans have returned to the internet in Beijing, replacing what had been a more sophisticated mix of self-censorship requirements for website hosts, news portals and bloggers.

Access to Taiwanese news outlets, which had been gradually opened over the past few years, has also been rescinded. The website of Hong Kong’s FCC, which is also this week hosting a talk by the editor of Prisoner of the State, is still accessible – but not the pages highlighting speaker events.

On the whole, however, the censors’ work is patchy. While Google News searches for topics unrelated to Tiananmen intermittently turn-up blank pages, a video of a Tiananmen memorial rally was still accessible on the South China Morning Post’s website on Tuesday.