Release Shell Oil's Bloody Hands


One of this nation's greatest leaders, John F. Kennedy '41 once said something to the effect that we are not relieved of our responsibilities by mere utterance of noble intentions. These words apply everywhere, for every responsible community that values the sanctity of human life. We in this community take pride in the knowledge that it was a son of Harvard who made such a bold, timeless statement.

Indeed we continually strive to emulate the remarkable leadership embodied in the life of President Kennedy. We are daily presented with crises around the world in which we as a community are often powerless to intervene directly. The recent assassination of one of Israel's greatest leaders, Yitzhak Rabin, has been one such case. President Kennedy and Prime Minister Rabin both represent the courageous martyrs of our times who remind us of the responsible role we must actively play on our campus, in the country and in the world community.

On Friday, November 10, 1995, the world lost another great leader--Ken Saro-Wiwa; a leading human rights activist and environmental crusader for the Ogoni people of southeastern Nigeria. He was awarded the 1995 Goldman Environmental Prize and was also nominated for the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.

Saro-Wiwa was not killed by a little-known individual. Even today we fail to truly comprehend the vicious crimes committed by Lee Harvey Oswald and Yigal Amir. We are horrified to contemplate that their actions were possibly sanctioned by greater authorities in their respective countries.

In Nigeria, last week, the highest authority in the country brutally murdered a man regarded as a champion of human rights the world over. The ugly head of violence has reared once again to terminate the life of a world leader. In this instance however, we know exactly who is behind this murder, we know why they violated even the most basic international norms and universal standards of human rights. Further, Harvard can demonstrate directly its condemnation of the Nigerian government and its allies.


Ken Saro-Wiwa was murdered by the Nigerian government after a mock trial in which he was sentenced to death by a specially constituted military tribunal in blatant disregard for all civil and judicial procedure. His death is but the latest outrage against the Ogoni people, who struggle against economic disenfranchisement by the military government and its greatest supporter, the multinational corporation Anglo-Dutch Shell.

Shell's 30-year-old enterprise in Ogoni land has devastated the environment and sparked the peaceful resistance of which Saro-Wiwa was a leading voice.

Harvard presently owns an estimated $1 million in shares of Shell Oil. These are facts that link us directly to the ongoing crisis in Nigeria. Another fact that should be quite plain--but has apparently evaded many governments, including the United States--is that oil is the lifeblood of the corrupt, brutal, murderous Nigerian government.

The joint venture operated by Shell in Nigeria is responsible for 70 percent of the Nigerian state's revenues. The U.S. buys nearly half of Nigerian oil exports; even though this amounts to less than 10 percent of overall American oil imports. Instead of taking the obvious and most effective measure of an oil embargo on Nigeria, the U.S. and other world governments have preferred to launch futile paper arrows at the Nigerian government through "quiet diplomacy."

The facts speak for themselves: as long as the Nigerian government continues to receive a steady flow of oil revenues they shall continue to defy the world community and to brutalize their people to the detriment of the entire West African region. Clearly, Harvard must not lose a moment to disassociate itself immediately from Shell Oil. Just as the U.S. government must boycott Nigerian oil, Harvard too must boycott Shell!

The Undergraduate Council made a bold statement on November 19 regarding Harvard's association with the economic roots of the crisis in Nigeria. The council passed a resolution, with no opposition, calling for complete divestment of the University from oil companies presently investing in Nigeria. The resolution also requests that President Neil L. Rudenstine sign letters to Shell Oil condemning the executions which were clearly motivated by oil interests.

There has been no official response from the President's office to the council resolution. Are we to interpret this as a sign of complete indifference to the continued abuse of human rights in Nigeria?

Have no doubt that there is a real possibility of an impending cataclysm in Nigeria whose implications would reverberate across the globe and certainly cut off the oil exports that the U.S. and the European Union are so reluctant to boycott.

Should that dark day become a reality, the tragic loss of human life in Nigeria shall dwarf the Rwandan genocide. Only then shall the international community begin to bicker about how best to alleviate the expanding human catastrophe. In 1990, Shell oil's request for police protection for its installations instigated the Umuechem massacre in which hundreds of villagers were butchered to death. Even at this moment seventeen more environmental activists face the death penalty. That is why we argue that Shell Oil is Nigerian blood.

The death of Ken Saro Wiwa together with eight other minority-right activists is part of the wider Nigerian crisis in which the military government continues to resist a transition to civilian rule and to a democratic government. Saro Wiwa himself described the present Nigerian leaders as "mindless, stone-age dictators, addicted to blood . . . They are daylight robbers who kill for money."

Both President Clinton and Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, have firmly stated their desire to see a transition to democracy in Nigeria. But these are futile words if not supported by strong actions; the military rulers of Nigeria do not care for diplomatic niceties. The continued imprisonment of prisoners of conscience in Nigeria including Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Gen. Olusegun Obassanjo, Christine Anyanwu and many others attests to the government's contempt for human rights.

The dictators shall be forced to heed the international community only when oil embargoes are imposed and other decisive sanctions are levied. People who argue that these measures shall only hurt the innocent people of Nigeria are inured to the reality of the Nigerian crisis in which billions of dollars of oil revenues are directed to private bank accounts. The best way we can help Nigerians is to force their government to respect human rights and allow democratic rule.

The author is Treasurer of the Harvard African Students Association (HASA). The Environmental Action Committee and HASA have endorsed this editorial.