A four-week trial has ended in the acquittal of Chevron Corp. for human rights violations stemming from a 1998 incident in which four Nigerian villagers who occupied an offshore drilling platform were shot. Two of the villagers died, and two were wounded. The villagers were the plaintiffs in the suit, led by Larry Bowoto, one of the men wounded in the attack. According to Bowoto’s side of the story, the villagers were staging a peaceful protest against Chevron’s hiring and environmental policies. Chevron claimed that the tribesmen, from the Niger Delta, stormed the platform and took hostages, demanding money and jobs. After a three-day standoff the oil company called in the Nigerian military, which is when things got ugly. According to an article in the Dec. 1 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, the nine-member jury deliberated less than two days before unanimously rejecting the plaintiff’s claims “that Chevron was responsible for assault, inhumane treatment, torture, and wrongful death.” The article goes on to state that the 19 plaintiffs included the two wounded men, relatives of one of those killed, and the family of a fourth man who was beaten and later died of unrelated causes. Chevron spokesperson Don Campbell was quoted as saying, “The jury upheld our position that our response was reasonable to a dangerous hostage-taking situation where our employees were in peril.” The plaintiff’s attorney, Bert Voorhees, said his clients will appeal the verdict. Websites in favor of the plaintiffs seem intent on arguing that Big Oil is a hard adversary, even in a court of law. One blog implies that the burden of proof was in favor of the defendant; in other words, to find Chevron guilty the jury would have to have unanimously concluded that Chevron Nigeria Ltd. “either aided and abetted or conspired with the Nigerians or that the Nigerian forces were the agents of CNL. Then, even with that second hurdle surmounted, the jury would have had to find that CNL was under the control of the parent companies, and thus that the parent companies could be vicariously liable for the actions of CNL and the Nigerian military.” Another organization, Justice in Nigeria Now!, claims victory despite the verdict. “The fact that Bowoto v. Chevron made it this far in the process is a victory in and of itself,” states Laura Livoti, founder of the group. “It means we have demonstrated that there is a clear pathway in the US court system for holding corporations accountable to the rule of law.” She adds that the group is “heartened by the fact that we are now entering a new era in the United States and abroad where people have seen the results of unregulated corporate excess (in the financial system and elsewhere) and want corporations to be reined in to prevent serious harms. Bringing this case to trial in the United States is a step on the path to corporate accountability.” Wonderful implications here – that until this trial surfaced, Big Oil was free to stomp all over helpless individuals just trying to eke out a living. Forget the fact that major oil companies have strict anti-bribing rules in place, even in the most corrupt countries. Forget the fact that they hire reputable contractors with solid health, safety, and environmental records despite the fact that in certain parts of the world they can relax their standards. If Chevron messed up, it was in expecting the Nigerian military to adhere to the same standards.