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NIGERIA: Are Human Rights in the Pipeline?

Amnesty International finds government fails to stop environmental and human rights abuses by oil multinationals

by Amnesty International
November 10th, 2004

The Nigerian government's failure to protect human rights during oil exploration and production is fuelling human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, Amnesty International (AI) said today in a new report, Nigeria: Are Human Rights in the Pipeline? The 59-page report examines practices of several transnational corporations (TNCs) including the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC) and the Nigerian Agip Oil Corporation (NAOC). It presents three case studies illustrating how TNCs made decisions for various projects without consulting members of the community -- who then faced dire environmental consequences, the seizure of their land without adequate compensation, or violence or intimidation as a means of assuring their silence.

"For far too long, the Nigerian government has sent the message that it is unwilling to protect the human rights of its people," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "The authorities in Nigeria have practically given oil companies carte blanche to act without accountability."

The report considers the rights to seek, receive and impart information from and about TNC environmental assessments; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to live free of contaminated water, toxic wastes and the adverse affects of oil spills; and the right to an effective legal remedy and redress. In Nigeria asserting these rights, or even simply living in the region, can lead to ill-treatment by security forces, or even death.

AI's calculations, based on local and international media reports, show that the number of people killed in the Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa States in 2004, including incidents in late August, could be as many as 670, and that as many as 1,000 were killed in the Niger Delta in 2003. While some deaths were due to intra- or inter-communal violence and the proliferation of illegal small arms, some can be attributed to excessive force on the part of state security forces forces those TNCs utilize to protect company employees and resources.

The report acknowledges that TNCs have not been a strictly negative force in the region. As a result of the government's failure to provide essential services, such as heath, education and access to drinking water, oil companies have funded a wide variety of corporate social responsibility projects. However, while voluntary and often philanthropic, AI has concluded that these activities have at times been designed more to ward off potential political risks to TNC operations. Regardless of motive, such activities are often carried out without consideration of environmental or social impact, creating an environment ripe for community conflict and subsequent human rights abuses, when only those closest to the companies benefit.

"Ensuring universal access to basic social amenities remains the responsibility of the Nigerian State," explained Salil Tripathi, Economic Relations Researcher for AI. "The responsibility of transnational corporations lies in ensuring that the areas they have voluntarily accepted to service are adequately provided for and are provided without discrimination."

The United States is the largest export market for Nigerian oil. Amnesty International believes that Nigeria, as Africa's leading oil producer, has a responsibility to set standards that can be applied throughout the region.

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