The Supreme Court opens its 2012-2013 term today with a landmark case to decide whether survivors of human rights violations in foreign countries can bring lawsuits against corporations in U.S. courts.
In the case, Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum, the oil giant is accused of being an accomplice to torture, extrajudicial executions and crimes against humanity by the Nigerian government between 1992 and 1995 in the Niger Delta region. Ken Sawo-Wiwa, a noted activist for the Ogoni people, was lynched with other activists for criticizing Shell Oil in November 1995.
Shell is alleged have helped the former dictatorship arrest and torture Saro-Wiwa and 12 Ogonis who had sought to peacefully disrupt oil development because of its health and environmental impacts.
Esther Kiobel, now a US citizen, brought her claims on behalf of her late husband, Barinem Kiobel, who was executed in a sham trial in which Shell is alleged to have played a key role. Shell is now trying to deny the plaintiffs—and all victims of foreign human rights crimes—the right to seek justice in U.S. courts.
At issue now is whether multinational corporations, allegedly complicit in such overseas abuses, are also liable.
Justices indicated in February that the statute doesn't permit suits against corporations but decided to re-examine the wider question of whether the statute can apply beyond US borders.
This case is being closely watched as it has implications for several other pending actions, including a group of Indonesian villagers who accuse oil giant Exxon Mobil's security forces of murder and torture.
Attorneys for Shell argue that the oil giant cannot be held legally responsible in the United States for offenses allegedly committed far from American shores.
"This case has nothing to do with the US," said Shell attorney Kathleen Sullivan, adding that the petitioners were seeking legal redress "against an Anglo-Dutch corporation for something that happened entirely in Nigeria."
A decision is not expected until next year. w/pix of K. Saro-Wiwa
ETHIOPIAN-BORN WRITER PICKED FOR ‘GENIUS’ PRIZE
Dinaw Mengestu, born in Ethiopia and raised in the U.S., was among the list of awardees of the prestigious “genius grant” for his novel writing.
Mengestu, 34, was raised in Peoria and, later, the suburbs of Chicago. He received his B.A. in English from Georgetown University and his MFA in fiction from Columbia University.
He was one of 23 awardees announced today by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Each will receive a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant over the next five years to allow them “unprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create, and explore.”
Author of novels “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears” and “How to Read Air,” Mengestu “enriched [the] understanding of the little-explored world of the African diaspora in America in tales distilled from the experience of immigrants whose memories are seared by escape from violence in their homelands,” said the Foundation.
“The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears,” his debut novel about Ethiopian immigrants forging a new life in Washington, D.C., won the L.A. Times Book Prize for first fiction in 2007 and Mengestu was named one of the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 in 2010.
“Part of what the MacArthur fellowship does is remind me that the work I've done is relevant – not necessarily what I write about, but the people who populate my work,” Mengestu said of the award. “That those people have a significance that sometimes might be overshadowed or lost in the larger narrative of the world, and it's important to keep writing out of those experiences.” w/pix of D. Mengestu
A full list of prizewinners can be found at http://www.macfound.org/programs/fellows/
NIGERIAN INDEPENDENCE MARRED BY MASS MURDER
Oct. 2 (GIN) – Nineteen students, a security guard and a yet unknown number of other residents of the Federal Polytechnic in Mubi, northeastern Nigeria, perished in a brutal massacre on the school campus, coincidentally days away from Nigerian Independence Day, Oct. 1.
The killings shocked even the hardest of Nigerian citizens. The gunmen apparently knew their victims, calling out their names before firing. Authorities suspect two feuding groups of students saying it does not appear to be the work of the insurgent Boko Haram fundamentalists.
Rivalries over student elections have turned violent before but have never reached this level, says the BBC's Nigeria correspondent Will Ross.
Just one day before, an independence day speech broadcast to the nation by the president, Goodluck Jonathan, noted “joy and hope” brought by the founding fathers after the country made a clean break from colonial rule, 52 years ago.
He mentioned the country’s 250 distinct languages and ethnic groups. “In 1960, our diversity became a source of strength. (Our new leaders) had their differences, but they placed a greater premium on the need to come together to build a new nation.”
But he slipped when he credited the nation with progress eliminating corruption. He said the watchdog Transparency International had rated Nigeria as second most improved country in the fight against corruption when in fact, TI puts Nigeria almost at the bottom of the list of ‘clean’ countries.
Meanwhile, a pro-labor and rights advocacy group has called on Nigerians to prepare for a mass protest over the recent hike in fuel prices. “Filling stations sell above the official prices and yet none have been shut,” the group said in a statement.
“There is a very tiny group of Nigerians who have cornered the wealth that belong to the working people and the poor, who are in the majority. They loot the treasury and use their stolen wealth to sustain themselves in power through their political parties,” they wrote. “ We want to change that system.” w/pix of Pres. Jonathan
KENYA MARKED FOR REVENGE ATTACKS BY AL-SHABAAB
Oct. 2 (GIN) – Kenya’s growing military offensive role in Somalia, leading efforts to remove Islamist rebels from their stronghold in the port city of Kismayo, may have triggered the weekend’s daylight attack on a Nairobi church during Sunday school classes.
A nine year old boy perished and nine others were wounded in the attack.
Irene Wambui, who was in the church at the time, told reporters: "We were just worshipping God in church when suddenly we heard an explosion and people started running for their lives."
A senior UN source working with security agreed that insecurity in Somalia “has worsened the situation in northeast Kenya. There is no government on the (Somali) side. Nobody knows how many weapons go back and forth across the border. That is always a concern,” he said.
Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda are all playing a role in the pacification of Somalia, supported by the U.S. Already this year, the Pentagon has poured more than $82 million into counterterrorism assistance for six African countries, with more than half of that going to Uganda and much of the rest going to Kenya, Burundi and Djibouti — all key allies in the fight against the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab.
Reports from the region say Kismayo is largely deserted and that Al Shabaab appears to have withdrawn its forces, having had a long time to prepare for this latest incursion.
Newly-elected Somali president Hassah Sheikh Mohamud praised the western-supported troops for forcing al-Shabaab to leave the city.
"We believe that this will help to bring about a return to stability in Somalia, and reduce over time the terrorist threat to Somalia and neighboring states," he said. But a release from the rebel fighters said they were “poised to engage the allied troops once they entered the city center, and would turn the streets into a “battlefield.” w/pix of Nairobi injured child
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