Why are the police siding with Shell?
Lawless burglary conviction could 'seriously impair' travel to US
Lucy Lawless' ability to travel to the United States could be "seriously impaired" if she is found guilty of burglary following her arrest after participating in a Greenpeace protest, a legal expert says.
The star of Xena and Spartacus was among seven protesters charged after a demonstration aboard a Shell drillship in Port Taranaki yesterday.
Police officers scaled the Noble Discoverer's drilling tower to arrest the group, four days after the protest began, 53m up the ship's drilling tower.
The group would appear in New Plymouth District Court on Thursday, police said.
Though unlikely, the protesters could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted, said Auckland University Faculty of Law associate professor Warren Brookbanks.
"They're not going to get imprisonment at all, it would probably be dealt with by a fine, I would think. Or if they have a good lawyer they might be able to successfully persuade the court to convict and discharge them."
Mr Brookbanks said Lawless' lawyer would most likely seek a discharge without conviction which would allow her to continue to travel to the United States - where she frequently works - without any problems.
"[A conviction] could seriously impair her ability to travel to countries like the United States, where they take criminal convictions very seriously."
Mr Brookbanks was surprised police chose to charge the protesters with burglary - defined by the Crimes Act as breaking and entering into any building or ship without authority and with intent to commit a crime.
"They could have charged them with being in an enclosed yard or disorderly behaviour or something like that. It strikes me that this is an element of overkill," he said.
The question is why are they being charged with burglary? I'm struggling to think of any other actions where activists have been landed with this rather than unlawfully entering a ship. It would seem in this instance that the police are taking a hard line and coming down in favour of Shell to stop similar actions, or that Shell's legal team is advising the police in order to attempt to control the spin around an event that is likely to be reported more widely due to Lawless' profile as an actress. In doing so, they are successfully pulling the attention off the issue of drilling and onto Lawless' career in a classic public relations move. While Lawless is unlikely to spend ten years in prison as these charges are unlikely to hold in court, the trumped up charges allow attention to be diverted to speculation over what will happen to her US show.
Under this spin, Shell are attempting to position themselves as reasonable against Lawless' actions. While the real issue here is the threat of an oil spill under drilling in the Arctic region, a region which has huge ecological significance to us all. Greenpeace were protesting against Shell's oil exploration in the Chukchi Sea, which sits between the coast of Alaska and Siberia. An area of ecological significance, the Arctic is already facing threats from climate change. The chance of an oil spill in this area is so high that the federal government's Mineral Managements Service estimated the chance of an oil spill at 40%. That's too high. Yet still Shell were provided with a permit to get the oil sitting under the ice. A look through what Shell says are its 'ecological' policies in terms of dealing with oil spills in the middle of an Arctic winter shows why the risk is that high - under those kind of weather conditions, a spill will be near impossible to control.
Anyone who thinks that Shell are for the environment and humanity only needs to look at the abhorrent record this company has had in preserving human rights. This week they will go to the courts for hearings on their summary executions of Nigerians, where they will argue it was the people who worked for them and not the corporation itself, as this article from The LA Times illustrates:
But now, the use of the Alien Tort Statute in cases of alleged corporate liability in human rights cases has come under attack from big business. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum. The plaintiffs are Nigerians who suffered abuse under a brutal military dictatorship in the mid-1990s; they sued Royal Dutch Petroleum, better known as Shell, over its alleged support of this violence. Shell is arguing that corporations are not responsible for human rights abuses under such circumstances; that individual employees who are complicit in torture, summary executions and other crimes against humanity can be held liable, but not corporations. An appeals court decided that international law, which is considered under the Alien Tort Statute, backed up that claim.
That decision misreads international law, which does not shield corporations from responsibility, and is a major setback for human rights cases based on Doe vs. Unocal. The justices will consider whether the U.S. will become a haven for companies that are allegedly complicit in the most heinous crimes or whether it will continue to provide a legal forum for accountability and justice.
This is from the same company whose former Australian head got busted on Wikileaks bragging about how her company had managed to infiltrate every branch of the Nigerian government.
And that's what is ridiculous about the coverage of this action. On the one hand there are a bunch of activists that have not harmed anyone. On the other hand there is a company that practices exploitation of humans and the environment at the highest international levels. And it is the company that the police will side with on trumping up their charges to burglary in a move that clearly won't hold in the courts, but is designed to damage the reputation of the activists and Lawless by creating a line in the media while diverting attention off the real issues at stake. Obviously that's not Lawless' career or whether she had a different opinion at the age of 23 - it is the way the rest of us will be affected by Shell's exploitation for short term gain.