by Danielle Knight
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
played by U.S. oil giants in the many incidents of human rights abuses, killings of civilians and harassment of environmental activists in Nigeria should be the subject of a Congressional investigation, said one U.S. lawmaker.
"Such an investigation launched now, would send a powerful signal...that our oil companies are not buying oil at the price of human lives, human rights and democracy," Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio, said here.
Kucinich's call for a hearing came in a letter to the House International Relations Committee after reports that the California-based Chevron oil company supplied helicopters and other equipment to the Nigerian military regime.
Nigerian security forces have cracked down on protestors -- mostly of the Ijaw ethnic minority -- who have demanded suspension of oil drilling activities. In a protest campaign, Ijaw youths have occupied oil platforms and taken company workers hostage.
The Ijaw say the foreign corporations are polluting their land and that the oil-rich Delta region remains poor even as oil royalties flow to the government. According to U.S. and Nigerian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), about 250 protectors have died in recent clashes with the military.
along with the kidnapping of employees of Anglo Dutch Shell, Chevron and other oil companies, has prevented production of nearly 400,000 barrels of oil a day, about one-quarter of Nigeria's total production.
When hostages were taken, or company property occupied by demonstrators, corporations called in the military which immediately cracked down on the protestors.
In May last year, Nigerian troops used Chevron's helicopter to move against demonstrators occupying an offshore drilling platform. The troops shot and killed two of the demonstrators and wounded others, activists alleged.
In the beginning of January, troops attacked the Ijaw villages of Opia and Ikiyan and set houses ablaze, according to Environmental Rights Action, a Nigerian-based organization. Several people were killed in the incident.
"One thing is certain -- the soldiers came with Chevron helicopters and Chevron boats," the group said.
The corporation admitted to providing the military with access to its helicopters, boats, and other equipment but said it had "no choice."
Fred Gorell, spokesman for the California-based corporation, said the military had access to company equipment because the government owned 60 percent of a joint oil project.
"The fact is, because Chevron and all companies are minority partners with the government, law enforcement has the opportunity to use Chevron helicopters because they have the controlling interest," he told IPS.
Gorell said a high percentage of Chevron's onshore facilities in Nigeria were now closed "until the situation in the Niger Delta is peacefully resolved."
Kucinich and environmental and human rights groups called this explanation "unacceptable."
"By continuing to operate with impunity behind the shield of such military repression, U.S. oil companies are accepting extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses as just another cost of doing business in Nigeria," Kucinich said.
His letter said that the U.S. government had a responsibility to act since this country obtained about half of all imported oil from Nigeria.
"If we want oil from Nigeria to keep flowing, then we must make sure our investments and corporate activity there weigh in on the side of creating a stable, representative democracy instead of a brutal oil republic," said Kucinich.
Shareholders of the corporation planned to file a resolution holding the company accountable for its participation in human rights abuses.
Franklin Research and Development, a socially conscious investment firm, and other shareholders of Chevron, requested the board of directors review its code of business conduct in light of the reports from Nigeria.
Project Underground and other U.S. activist groups have organized protests outside the company's headquarters in San Francisco. About 50 students from a local high school, some of whose parents are employed by the corporation, are also participating in the demonstrations.
"Chevron needs to take responsibility and action now," said Danny Kennedy, director of Project Underground. "If Chevron managers have no control over whether or not their equipment is used for murder, they should immediately cease all operations."
Last month, more than 200 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the Sierra Club and Human Rights Watch, urged transnationals like Shell, Chevron, and Mobil to suspend their operations until the military withdraws from the Ijaw region.
Shell has been under close scrutiny by international groups since 1995 when rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other members of the Ogoni minority -- another Delta community -- were executed by the state for their campaign against the corporation.
March 1, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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