Nigeria: New Amnesty report exposes human rights abuses by Shell and other oil companies

Amnesty challenges new Shell CEO to make good in his first 100 days

“If you want to go fishing, you have to paddle for about four hours through several rivers before you can get to where you can catch fish and the spill is lesser… some of the fish we catch, when you open the stomach, it smells of crude oil.”
A Bodo fisherman, victim of oil spills in 2008 and 2009 which have still not been cleaned up

Amnesty International today (30 June) published a damning new report revealing how decades of environmental damage by Shell and other oil companies in the Niger Delta has caused serious violations of local people’s human rights – leaving them to drink polluted water, eat contaminated fish, farm on spoiled land, and breathing in air that stinks of oil and gas.

Launching the report at a press conference in Abuja, Nigeria, Amnesty called the situation in the Niger Delta a “human rights tragedy,” saying that the people of the Niger Delta have seen their human rights abused by oil companies that their government cannot or will not hold to account. Shell is the biggest oil company operating in the Niger Delta.

The 141-page report, ‘Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta’, examines oil spills, gas flaring, waste dumping and other environmental impacts of the oil industry. The majority of the evidence on pollution and environment damage gathered by Amnesty International, and contained in its new report, relates to the operations of Shell.

The human rights impact of pollution in the Niger Delta is greatly under-reported. The majority of people in the Niger Delta depend on the natural environment for their food and livelihood, particularly through agriculture and fisheries.

Amnesty International said that government regulation of the oil industry has been wholly inadequate.

The organisation also accused the Nigerian government of effectively placing substantial responsibility for remedying human rights abuses in the hands of the very actors responsible for the abuse – the oil companies. As a result, remedies are often ineffective.

Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International Head of Business and Human Rights, said:

“A government’s failure to protect the human rights of its people does not absolve companies from responsibility for their actions.

“Oil companies such as Shell are not free to ignore the consequences of their actions just because the government has failed to hold them to account. The international standard is not ‘whatever a company can get away with’ - there are international standards for oil industry operations that oil companies in the Niger Delta are very well aware of.

“Despite its public claims to be a socially and environmentally responsible corporation, Shell continues to directly harm human rights through its failure to adequately prevent and mitigate pollution and environmental damage in the Niger Delta.”

Shell and other companies also do no adequate monitoring of - or disclosure of information on - the human impacts of oil operations. Amnesty International said that clean-up processes in the Niger Delta frequently fail to meet any expert understanding of good practice, with some companies negligently allowing unqualified staff to clean up oil spills, resulting in ongoing contamination of land and water.

Almost every community visited by Amnesty International recounted that creeks, ponds or rivers had been damaged by oil spills or other oil-related pollution – often more than once, leading to community anger.

Communities and armed groups in the Niger Delta have also contributed to the problem of pollution, by vandalising oil infrastructure and the theft of oil. But the scale of this problem is not clear.

Note to editors:

On 1 July 2009 Mr Peter Voser will take over as the new Chief Executive of Royal Dutch Shell. As the new Chief Executive he inherits the legacy Shell’s failures and poor practice in the Niger Delta. This legacy is – in significant part - the result of Shell’s failure to effectively prevent and address environmental damage and pollution caused by its operations. Amnesty International has sent Mr Voser a copy of its report, and called on him to make cleaning up Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta a top priority. As a first step – Amnesty International has joined colleagues from the Niger Delta to ask Mr Voser to ‘come clean’ on Shell’s impact on human rights by disclosing critical information and making a public commitment to assessing the social and human rights impact of Shell’s operations.

ENDS

Amnesty International UK media information:
Sarah Green: 020 7033 1549,

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