April 23, 2009, San Francisco, CA - Late Wednesday afternoon, a U.S. federal court denied Chevron's attempt to have Nigerian victims of abuses pay the oil giant's costs of litigation arising out of Bowoto v. Chevron, a landmark human rights lawsuit that went to trial last fall. Despite a December 2008 jury verdict in Chevron's favor, Judge Susan Illston found that making these victims pay Chevron's costs "would have a chilling effect on future civil rights litigants."
Chevron had requested to collect $485,000 in expenses, including nearly $200,000 in photocopying costs, from a group of impoverished Nigerian villagers living in the Niger River Delta, a region of subsistence farmers and fishermen, devastated by the environmental impact of oil extraction in the region. According to a 2006 UN estimate, the per capita income for Nigeria was $912 -- however, this figure emcompasses areas far wealthier than the Delta home of the Ilaje plaintiffs. Contrast this with the $23.4 billion in recordbreaking profit that Chevron earned in 2008 and you have a sense of the cynicism of Chevron's request. Clearly, it was a brazen attempt to intimidate would-be plaintiffs from bringing human rights lawsuits against multinational corporations - part of Chevron's 'lawfare' strategy of putting the kibosh on future Alien Tort Statute suits.
Although the jury found in favor of Chevron at trial, the court's order recognizes that "this case was an attempt by impoverished citizens of Nigeria to increase accountability for the activities of American companies in their country," and that denying payment of Chevron's costs was warranted given the "extreme economic disparity between plaintiffs and defendants--Chevron Corporation's fourth quarter net income in 2008 was $4.9 billion; full year 2008 net income was $23.93 billion."
Plaintiffs' counsel Cindy Cohn, Legal Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), stated,"We're pleased that Chevron's attempt to punish these poor Nigerian villagers was soundly rejected by the Court, and that the Court saw through the oil company's larger effort to deter victims of human rights abuses from bringing suit."
The plaintiffs have also appealed the jury's verdict, and argued that a new trial was appropriate after Chevron's lawyers made improper arguments and misused evidence. Plaintiffs' counsel Marco Simons, Legal Director of EarthRights International (ERI), said, "In this order, the Court rejected Chevron's argument that the plaintiffs' claims had no merit, and we are confident that we will be vindicated on appeal."
Bowoto v. Chevron Corp., No. 99-2506, charged the multinational oil company with complicity in gross human rights abuses arising from its use of the notorious Nigerian military and "kill and go" mobile police against those who protested environmental and economic harms caused by oil production in the Niger Delta. The lawsuit is based on a 1998 incident in which Nigerian soldiers shot unarmed protesters at Chevron's Parabe offshore platform. The soldiers were admittedly paid by Chevron, ferried to the platform in Chevron helicopters and supervised by Chevron personnel. Two demonstrators were killed, others were shot and wounded, and several others were detained and tortured after the attack.
More information on the Bowoto v. Chevron case is available here:
Re-posted in part from original press release***