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Nigeria: UN Must Not Use Flawed Data on Cause of Oil Spills

LONDON - Amnesty International today challenged the credibility of data
cited by a senior UN official investigating oil-impacted sites in
Ogoniland in the Niger Delta.

A United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) official is reported to
have said that 90 per cent of oil spills in Ogoniland were due to
sabotage and criminal activity, and just 10 per cent due to equipment
failure and negligence by companies such as Shell.

Amnesty International has challenged UNEP’s reliance on these
figures, which were produced by Nigerian regulatory agencies that are
known to depend heavily on the oil companies themselves when it comes to
spill investigations.

“Relying on these figures would be a serious misjudgement, with
potentially significant ramifications for those living in the Niger
Delta,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Amnesty International’s Global
Thematic Issues Program. “UNEP must be aware that the figures have been
strongly challenged for years by environmental groups and communities.
They are totally lacking in credibility.”

“The people of the Niger Delta have been lied to and denied justice
for decades. The issue of oil spill causation is sensitive. If UNEP is
going to comment on the cause of oil spills it should do so only on the
basis of hard and credible evidence, not figures that are a source of

In June 2009 an Amnesty International report on the human rights
impacts of oil pollution concluded that the oil spill investigation
system in the Niger Delta was totally lacking in independence, and was
inadequate to determine the proportion of oil spills caused by sabotage,
as opposed to equipment failure. Amnesty International found that in
many cases oil companies have significant influence on determining the
cause of a spill. The report documents examples of cases where Shell
claimed the cause of a spill was sabotage, but the claim was
subsequently questioned by other investigations or the courts.


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Amnesty International has called for independent oversight of the oil
industry in the Niger Delta, including disclosure of all relevant
information on the causes of oil pollution.

Between 1989 and 1994 Shell itself estimated that only 28 percent of
oil spilt in the Niger Delta was caused by sabotage. In 2007 Shell's
estimate had risen to 70 per cent. The figure now given by Shell has
increased to more than 90 per cent. Amnesty International has repeatedly
asked Shell to produce evidence to support these figures. Shell has
been unable to do so.

“While sabotage and vandalism are serious problems, there is no
evidence to support the figures offered by oil companies and the
Nigerian government agencies,” said Audrey Gaughran.


• For further information and an analysis of company involvement in
determining oil spill causation, or to arrange interviews, please
contact Katy Pownall on +44(0)207 413 5729 or email
• Amnesty International’s report Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta
The full report can be viewed here:
• The
report was released as part of Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity
campaign, which aims to end the human rights violations that drive and
deepen global poverty. The campaign will mobilise people all over the
world to demand that governments, corporations and others who have power
listen to the voices of those living in poverty and recognise and
protect their rights. For more information visit


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