Speech by the head of the Jury and Board Elin Enge

Oslo Sophie Prize Ceremony June 15, 1998

The Sophie Prize 1998 has been awarded to Environmental Rights Action (ERA) in Nigeria

The Sophie Foundation has decided to award the international Sophie Prize 1998 to this environmental and human rights organization on account of its outstanding courage in working for human dignity and the protection of the environment.

ERA has since the start in 1993, played a major role in surveying damage inflicted on the environment by oil companies, operating in the Ogoni people's land territorries of the Niger delta. ERA has managed to generate awareness of human rights and the environment in the affected areas. The organisation has also initiated the building of community reource centres, where the local communities receive support for their environmental ande development initiatives.

More than 50,000 Ogoni people have been forced to flee from their communities due4 to the exprpriation of their land and extensive pollution of the earth, air and water. This has led to a 75% reduction in crops, which in turn has caused 25% of the areas's population to suffer from severe malnutrition. The European Parliament has characterized the oil extraction in the Niger delta as "an environmental disaster".

According to several independent sources, close to 2000 persons have been killed in the conflict. In 1993-94 a number of Ogoni villages where totally devastated by military forces after peaceful protests against the activities of the international oil company Shell.

In 1995 the respected author and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiva and eight other representatives of MOSOP, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, where executed.

In recent yearsd a number of human rights and environmental activists in Nigeria have been imprisoned without trial, several have been helds in detetion for more than 3 years, some of them have suffered torture. In May, this year, Isaac Osuoka, an activist in ERA and coordinator from Oilwatch Africa, was detained and is still being held without charges.

ERA's President Nnimmo Bassey, has been hindered from coming to Norway, to receive the Sophie Prize on behalf of ERA, because hisnpassport is seized. He has for many years been engaged in environment and human rights activities in Nigeria and has been imprisoned repeatedly. An international campaign is established in order to prevent that he and his fellow activists are forced to share the same fate as Ken Saro-Wiva.

Nogeria is a military dictatorship, ranked as third in the world for breaches of human rights

It is considered the most corrupt country in the world. The country is extremely rich in oil reserves and more than 97% of the contry's export income comes from oil or natural gas operations. But the wealth has not reached the people of Nigeria. After the sudden death last week of its dictator Sani Abacha, Nigeria is facing increased instability, as the struggle for democracy will be intensified.

The  jury has awarded the Sophjie Prize to ERA on account of the following:

  • ERA has succeeded in creating public awareness of the close interconnection between environment, human rights and democracy. They have demonstrated how violation of human rights and the violation of the environment often go hand in hand.
  • ERA has shown that support to democratic movements is essential for creating reform pressure on local and national governments, that are neglecting or undermining the livelihood security of their citizens.
  • ERA has manifested how multi-national companies effect, and in this case directly destroy, tha basis for human existence. ERA has thus drawn attention to the responsiblities which rest upon international companies as to their obligation to respect human rights and the environment. Governments are to be held accountable for creating the conditions under which the multi-national companies are allowed to operate.
  • ERA has through the creation of community resource centres respectfully put the development initiiatives and tools to manage natural resources back into the hands of  local people.

The jury also hopes through international attention, to provide protection to the 20 imprisoned environmental activists and hopefully to shielding representatives from the environmental movement from future injustices in Nigeria.

Finally - We find that a distinct responsibility rests on Norway, as a major oil nation and as investor, among others through the Oil Fund, to maintain a concistent policy in securing human rights and the environment.

We have the great pleasure of congratulating Environmental Rights Action of Nigeria as winner of the Sophie Prize 1998 and hope that the Prize will encourage ERA to pursue its struggle for justice, human rights and the protection of the environment.