Social & Economic Rights Action Center & The Center for Economic & Social Rights v. Nigeria
African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
Comm. 155/96, 15th Annual Activity Report (2001)
When the government of Nigeria (defendant) was run by the military, the government engaged in oil production with a consortium that included Shell Petroleum Development Corporation. The oil-production operations directly caused a host of environmental and health challenges for the Ogani people. The Social & Economic Rights Action Center and the Center for Economic & Social Rights (plaintiffs) filed a complaint against Nigeria. The complaint alleged that Nigeria and the oil consortium had committed a wide variety of violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the charter). The consortium disposed of toxic waste in local waters and did not take care of its facilities, leading to multiple avoidable oil spills near villages. This contamination of the land, air, and water caused health consequences ranging from infections to increased cancer risks. The contamination also affected farming and fishing. The government took no steps to monitor the oil companies’ practices and did not disclose information on dangers associated with the oil operations or allow the Ogani people to have any part in the decision-making regarding operations in Oganiland. Nigeria did not conduct any health or environmental-impact studies and refused to allow environmental groups or scientists to conduct any studies. Nigeria’s violations also took a more violent and deadly turn because the government reacted to protests by killing leaders of the Ogani people. In addition, over a three-year period, Nigerian forces attacked several Ogoni villages, burning them in response to nonviolent opposition. Security personnel destroyed crops and slaughtered farm animals, causing a lack of food and starvation in some Ogani villages. In some cases, the attacks were carried out by the combined might of the local police along with the army, navy, and air force, utilizing armored tanks and military weapons. The Nigerian army admitted to its participation in operations that displaced thousands of villagers. One security official acknowledged that his troops had shot unarmed villagers in the back as they fled. These activities affected express rights, such as the rights to life, property, physical and mental health, a clean environment, and the disposal of natural resources, as well as implied rights, such as the right to food and shelter. Nigeria did not investigate or punish anyone for the attacks.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Per curiam)
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