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Jury acquits Chevron in Nigeria case

December 02, 2008
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Bizjournals.com reports that Chevron Corp. has been acquitted in a human rights case involving Nigerian militants and protestors. The case, Bowoto v. Chevron, concerned allegations of human rights abuses by the San Ramon oil giant. In a 1998 incident, Nigerian protestors boarded an offshore Chevron oil platform and some of them were then shot by Nigerian police. Chevron has long said it had no control over the tactics used by Nigerian police in the incident, while those who filed the suit in U.S. court maintain the company was responsible for the shootings. Both sides have used rhetoric in press statements, with Chevron sometimes calling the protesters “hostage takers” and opponents calling the event a “nonviolent sit-in.” Sit-ins and other protests in the region are part of a pattern of both legal and criminal action against big oil companies working in Nigeria. Local residents of Nigeria have long sought money and other concessions from oil businesses working in the area — including those owned by their own government. Onshore, people crack open pipelines to steal oil and gasoline, sometimes triggering holocausts in which they and others are incinerated. Local militant groups, some with genuine grievances, others merely out to squeeze money from “big oil” and their own government, sabotage oil facilities and kidnap employees of the companies. In such an atmosphere of almost Byzantine intrigue and corruption, assigning blame and establishing clear motives is nearly as hard as finding oil under thousands of feet of water. The losers in today’s verdict still hailed the decision as a victory, saying that just by making it to court the case paved a path for “holding corporations accountable.” In its own short statement about the verdict, Chevron said it and its local subsidiary “have acted as a force for positive change, supporting programs for the benefit of public health, economic development and education” in Nigeria.

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