Processing Magazine

Jury seated in Chevron Nigerian protest case

October 29, 2008

Lawyers for Chevron Corp. and a group of Nigerian villagers presented opening statements to a federal jury in San Francisco in a lawsuit over a 1998 protest at an offshore oil platform in which one villager was killed and three others were injured, according to the Associated Press. A nine-member jury was seated for a trial that is scheduled to last five weeks. The case dates from May 1998, when more than 100 villagers from the Niger Delta went to a platform maintained by Chevron''s Nigerian subsidiary to protest the company''s employment and environmental policies. After three days of negotiations, Chevron summoned the Nigerian military, who fatally shot one man and wounded two. Chevron says the villagers took over the platform by force and held the employees hostage until security forces arrived. The plaintiffs say they were unarmed and their protest was peaceful. The two wounded men and relatives of the dead men are seeking damages under the Alien Tort Claims Act, a law passed in 1789 that allows foreigners to sue in a U.S. court for violations of international human rights that occur anywhere in the world. Chevron won permission to offer evidence of an alleged hostage-taking incident that it says supports its overall version of events. As Nigerian forces were shooting at some of the protesters, the company says, other villagers swam to a Chevron Nigeria tugboat and forced seven employees to take the craft to a village, where they were held captive for three days. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the incident, if it occurred, was irrelevant to the questions of whether the shootings were justified and whether Chevron was responsible. The judge said the company could present the incident to try to show that the entire protest was a violent takeover.