Corporate Accountability Advocates Claim Victory, Despite Verdict in Human Rights Case Against Chevron
Bowoto Case Showed There is a Legal Foundation For Corporations to be Held Liable in US Courts for Human Rights Abuses Committed Overseas
SAN FRANCISCOO Monday, December 1, a US district court jury acquitted San Ramon-based Chevron Corporation of complicity in human rights abuses. The case of Bowoto v. Chevron, which pitted Chevron and its relationship with the notoriously violent Nigerian police and military against Nigerians who peacefully protested the destruction of their environment and livelihood by Chevron’s oil production activities. Despite the verdict, corporate accountability advocates vowed to continue the struggle to bring Chevron and other corporations to justice for human rights violations they commit overseas.
“The fact that Bowoto v. Chevron made it this far in the process is a victory in and of itself, because it means that we have demonstrated that there is a clear pathway in the US court system for holding corporations accountable to the rule of law. This is the first time a case against a company for aiding and abetting human rights violations overseas has even gone before a jury. And although we are disappointed that the plaintiffs did not prevail in this case, we are heartened by the fact that we are now entering a new era in the United States and abroad where people have seen the results of unregulated corporate excess (in the financial system and elsewhere) and want corporations to be reined in to prevent serious harms. Bringing this case to trial in the United States is a step on the path to corporate accountability. In the near future, corporations will no longer have a free ride to do operate with impunity in ways that are destructive and dehumanizing,” said Laura Livoti, founder of the group Justice in Nigeria Now.
“Regardless of the verdict, the Bowoto v. Chevron case represented a watershed in terms of corporate accountability. The details of the Nigerian case – of human rights abuses in the global operations of the oil and gas industry – can be replicated many times over in different industrial sectors in different parts of the world. Now communities around the world know that they have recourse to legal mechanisms to bring corporations that violate their human rights to justice,” said Michael Watts, a professor at UC Berkeley and author of numerous books on the Niger Delta, including Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta.
Bowoto v. Chevron concerned a 1998 incident in which Nigerian soldiers and police shot unarmed residents of the Ilaje community in southern Nigeria who were staging a nonviolent sit-in at Chevron’s offshore Parabe Platform to demand that Chevron change its practices. Chevron’s operations have devastated local communities’ access to food and clean water. The protester also demanded that the company support the local economy by hiring local residents. In response to the peaceful protest, Chevron summoned the notoriously violent Nigerian police and military and transported them in Chevron helicopters to the oil platform. Under the supervision of Chevron personnel, the Nigerian military and police killed two protesters and permanently injured others. Several protesters were taken to Nigerian jails, where they were tortured.
The jury was charged with deciding whether Chevron aided and abetted the Nigerian military, in violation of international law. The legal basis for the case was the Alien Tort Statute, a law that enables foreign victims of human rights violations by corporations to hold a US corporation accountable in US court for violations of the law of nations overseas. The Alien Tort Statute has been used in cases charging Unocal with violating the human rights of Burmese villagers during the construction of an oil pipeline in Burma, and charging Yahoo with giving the Chinese government information that allowed it to identify and arrest a Chinese dissident. Both of those cases ended in out-of-court settlements. Bowoto v. Chevron would have been the first time a U.S. corporation has been held liable by a jury in U.S. courts for aiding and abetting human rights abuses committed overseas.