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Nnimmo Bassey demands an international tribunal against climate crimes after the model of the International Court of Justice. Environmental crimes are a form of genocide, says Bassey. Those who are responsible for climate and environmental damage like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico should be held accountable. Therefore a reform of the justice system is needed. Secondly the price of oil does not reflect the real costs like human rights abuses and environmental destruction especially for local communities in the global South. That has to change, too.


Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International and Awardee of the "Right Livelihood Award" (Alternative Nobel Prize), Nigeria


David Goessmann: You filed law-suits against Shell, can you talk about this?

Nnimmo Bassey: Yes we have a series of law-suits against these climate criminals and the one against Shell that was in 2005 in the high court in Benin City. The others are going on. But that one was decided on very quickly. The communities asked the courts to determine if gas flaring was permissible and if it was legal and if it was not an affront to their human rights and the judge ruled that gas flaring was illegal, as indeed it has been since 1984, and that it was against the human rights of the people and that it should be stopped. But as we speak that gas flaring is still going on. It's still going on. With impunity for the corproations operating in the area. That was the law-suit we got a victory. It was demanded that Shell stopped, but it was not stopped. They don't respect the law. What they did after the judgement was to challenge the processes that led to the victory, to the decision on the case, but after filing the intention they've not pushed it any further. So the judgement stands but is not being implemented. We have other cases like, there are cases going on in The Hague right now, in the Netherlands, against Shell, but those one's are for environmental pollution, for oil-spills. And, you know, usually when you challenge them on human rights cases they would say, "Well, we did not do it, it was the Nigerian security system, or the Nigerian police, or the Nigerian military, so why don't you sue them, why don't you go to them, we didn't do anything." So we sued them for the environmental pollution, for oil-spills, and so (that we can) see if they said they didn't cause the oil-spill, but of course now they're trying to say that most of the oil-spills are caused by the local people to sabotage, but that is not true. There are some cases of sabotage, clearly, nobody can deny that, people tamper with the pipelines, but not nearly as much as the oil corporations would like the world to believe. Now, why do they lie about sabotage figures? Nigerian law allows them, if they can claim that it's sabotage, not to pay compensations for environmental damage. So, to them that's a big economic incentive to claim that every pollution is caused by sabotage.

Fabian Scheidler: You have been advocating for an international climate crimes tribunal, er, modelled after the international court of justice, er, and proposed in Cochabamba 2010. Could you talk about that concept?

Nnimmo Bassey: Yes, you know, the peoples conference on climate change in Cochabamba in April 2010 was very, very significant. Because for over just two days people(s) from around the world, from 142 countries, with 58 national delegations met - 35000 people in all - met in Cochabamba and came out with the people's agreement. And one of the cardinal requirements of that agreement was that there should be an establishment of a climate crimes tribunal. I believe clearly that the time has come for the world to have a tribunal, where those who destroy the environment, those who pollute the environment, will be held accountable for their crimes. Because environmental pollution is just like genocide. In Nigeria, for example, life expectancy in the oil-fields are reduced to 41 years. 41 years, only. Some people would tell me, "Well it's because infant mortality is very high", but then why are children dying? It's because of the pollution. And the people who are polluting, are going free, nobody is holding them accountable. They are not accountable. They build a school-block, you build me a clinic and you poison me? The clinic is stupid, it's unnecessary. Because it's of no use. You're loading my veins with poison, and you're giving me a pain killer. Doesn't make sense. But this what they hold about corporate social responsibility, "Oh, we built them a clinic, we're doing the best we can do", and they are happy. And the government approaches them and goes to cut the ribbon to declare those things open. Big insult on the people, and very myopic of the government. This is why we want the international environmental crimes tribunal. Where corporations and directors of those companies will be held personally liable. So they don't hide behind the corporation, you know companies are persons when they go to court, they're persons when they're registered, but when it comes to liability, they are not persons. You know, you can not hide behind these companies. So, we need to rip of that shirt. So that the people who pollute, that the people who let BP, for example, in the gulf of Mexico, they should be held accountable personally. Not just BP be held accountable. We need a reform of the legal system around the world.. We have a good example in Ecuador, where the 2008 constitution has a clause allowing citizens to take action, to defend the rights of mother earth. And, as a test-case in 26. Nov. 2010, I was in Ecuador along with Vandana Shiva and some activists form Peru, from Mexico, and also from Ecuador, and the former chairman of the constitutional assembly of Ecuador, we brought a case against BP in the Ecuadorian constitutional courts for damaging and polluting mother earth. Now, the court is to use the constitution of that country to try BP, and the case was accepted. So, we have that case going on now in Ecuador. And the interesting thing is that we didn't make demand for financial compensation. Some may say, "Ok, you want to pay some money ? No, no, no, but we are products of the earth and it's so good that you have a country that gives us a permit to defend the right of mother earth. It's a very, very, er, it's a very innovative law, which we hope other countries will emulate, so we have a global system where we can act on behalf of the environment. Now, one of the key demands of that case is that BP should be forced or required to reveal exactly how much crude oil they spilled into the gulf of Mexico. God, nobody knows how much. They kept increasing the amount. They started from 1000 barrels/d to 5000 barrels/d to 10000 barrels/d, the amount was periodically increased. Whereas they knew from the beginning how much it was. But they wouldn't tell us. So we want them to tell us how much oil, and when we know the value, the volume they should also commit anywhere in the world, any fuel they have, to leave as much oil untapped, to leave it in the soil. As a compensation to mother earth for what they did. We want them to also reveal how much of the dispersing chemical, the dispersion that they use. Because they use an unusual amount of chemical to push that crude oil under the water. So we need to know exactly how much they use and we to know also how many independent or dependent scientists they hired to do studies to show that there is no pollution in the area. We need to have the lists, and the numbers, and the names. So that they can be exposed to the whole world to know, this are the people who are cooperating with BP to deceive the world. And, yes, this and similar demands.

David Goessmann: You're talking a lot about exiting the fossile fuel era. What does that imply and how does it, how can it be managed, er, especially by African and European people ?

Nnimmo Bassey: We believe that the crisis in the world today has been driven mainly by the fossil fuel civilisation. If you look at even the wars being fought in the world today is about "Who is going to control the fossil fuel sources in the world. And we do know that the discovery that petrol drives cars actually also led to escalation of a mechanisation of warfare, you know, to the use of personal carriers, the jet-fighters, and the rest. So, the war has been driven into a very cataclysmic part by fossil fuel development. And, the climate change that we are talking about is caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels. Whatever else may be the cause, but that is a major cause by human beings burning fossil fuels. And now we know the cause of these problems. We suggest that we should tackle it at the source. Now, the implication is that it will affect the way we produce, the way we consume. But if we want to be sustainable and look at a future and recognise that digging for oil in more fragile ecosystems, digging for oil in restricted areas, maybe going to the north-pole or something where climate change melts the polar ice so we can go down 'n get crude oil, but it's easy, you compound any problems that already have been created, that is not a solution. You just driving the world into more crisis. So, the moving away from fossil fuels is a big challenge for everybody, because right now, it does appear that fossil fuels give very cheap forms of energy, although the energy is only cheap because people are not paying the real costs of pollution. And who suffers the abuses, and who are being killed in the fields. If all the losses of the local people in the world would be computed, fossil fuels would seem to be extremely expensive. And perhaps the world would be much more ready to move away from this kind of civilisation. But because the costs are externalised to people who are away from cameras, nobody sees what's going on there, everybody is comfortable with just going to the pump, you drive up your car, the petrol goes in, you don't even see it, you don't see the oil spill, you don't see nothing, you close the tank and you drive off and you have a good time, whistling as you go. So, the way we should do things is being serious about renewable energies, being serious and investing more in what will be sustainable, in what will give our children a fair chance of survival. Right now, we're living as if there is no tomorrow. That's what fossil fuel means, that we can be sure that in our lifetime we will probably still have fossil fuels being exhausted the next couple of decades, and so we can still go on. But what about our children? But what about our children's children? Fossil fuel is only renewable maybe in the next one billion years, we're going to have more. It's not in the short term, so clearly in a sensible way, it's not a renewable.

Fabian Scheidler: Some people have proposed in this situation to just replace fossil fuels by, for example, agro-fuels and you already talked about the problems that these agro-fuels cause. And other people have proposed that we have to get away from our, from our model of permanent growth of economies, and could you talk about this?

Nnimmo Bassey: Yes, about the fossil fuels, er, being replaced by agro-fuels, I think, that clearly is a lie. Because those who propose it understand you don't have enough land on earth to grow the crops that would replace fossil fuels, at best it can be an addition. And I think the agro-fuels are attractive because they use the same paradigm, the same mechanism as fossil fuels, the same pipeline, the same tanker, the same refineries, the same people. So the same oil-companies will still be involved in the refining. In Nigeria the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation pushed the government in that direction. And they are the ones who are grabbing lands in the country, to grow food crops for machines. And they are really challenging - causing problems for food supply in the country. And so that, I think, this is why bio-fuels are found to be attractive. They maintain the status quo and it doesn't challenge anybody to shift from this system of energy generation to a new system. We just have to make a clean break from fossil fuels and agrofuels. Except for small, maybe communal usage, we could use fossil fuel in there. I mean, you could use agro-fuels, but only in a sustainable manner. But not on a large scale, not for big machines, and not for running millions of cars.

Fabian Scheidler: That was Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International.

David Goessmann: And that does it for our show. Thanks for staying with us. We hope you will join in again.
David GoeƟmann and Fabian Scheidler.