Nigeria: Shell Faces More Trials Over Oil Spills
Sopuruchi Onwuka - 3 January 2010
After paying out millions of dollars to Ogoni right activist to rest legal actions over its culpability in the execution of host community leaders in Nigeria, Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell, is to face another legal battle over environmental degradation in Nigeria.
A Dutch court ruled this weekend that it had the authority to handle a case brought against a unit of Shell for alleged negligence related to oil spills in Nigeria, according to agency sources.
The development follows failed attempts by the oil multinational to block the legal action on technical grounds.
Another case against Shell over its activities in Nigeria is still pending in the United States while activists that have secured the right to sue said they would collaborate to press environmental degradation charges against the firm in its Dutch homeland.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth Netherlands and four Nigerians aim to sue Shell in a Dutch court on the negligence charges related to several incidents of oil spills.
Shell asked for a ruling on whether the Dutch court had jurisdiction over its Nigerian activities, but the court rejected a claim of incompetence.
"The court has decided that it is competent, so we will be handling the case," said a court spokeswoman.
"The facts are connected and for reasons of efficiency the cases against Shell and Shell Nigeria will be handled jointly."
Shell will be able to enter a statement of reply to the claims on 10 February, the court spokeswoman said.
Shell said it was disappointed with the court's ruling.
The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) had at a media workshop in Lagos declared that Shell and Agip were responsible for over 70 percent of total oil spills in the country.
The spills, according to the agency, constituted severe environmental challenge in the host Niger Delta environment, and posed serious danger to ecological setting of the area.
Friends of the Earth Netherlands and the Nigerian plaintiffs, who are fishermen and farmers from the Niger Delta, welcomed the decision to pursue the cases jointly.
"Now we can start the real lawsuit about whether Shell is responsible and how much they have to do to compensate the damage," a spokeswoman for the environmental group said.
In a similar case that lasted fourteen years, Shell had in June paid a $15.5 million out-of-court settlement to plaintiffs from the Ogoni land of the Niger Delta to end a case of complicity in human rights atrocities committed against the Ogoni people in the 1990s, including the execution of writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
The legal action was one of the few cases brought under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute that have been resolved in favor of the plaintiffs.
The settlement included establishment of a $5 million trust to benefit local communities in Ogoni.
"We congratulate the plaintiffs on their victory. Let there be no doubt that Shell has emerged guilty. With this settlement, Shell is seeking to keep the overwhelming evidence of its crimes away from the scrutiny of a jury trial," said Ben Amunwa from the UK-based remember saro-wiwa project. "Shell could not stand the damage of bad publicity around this human rights case. Global campaigners have helped to highlight Shell's abuses and we share in this historic victory."
"Shell is guilty. Despite this victory, justice will not be served in Ogoni and throughout the Delta until the gas flares are put out, the spills cleaned up, and the military stops protecting the oil companies and starts serving the people," said Steve Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International.
"This issue will not be solved until these legitimate grievances of the community are addressed."
"This case should be a wake up call to multinational corporations that they will be held accountable for violations of international law, no matter where they occur," said Han Shan, ShellGuilty Campaign Coordinator for Oil Change International.
The next phase of the struggle continues with another case involving an Ogoni plaintiff pending in the New York District Court, and a further legal action in The Hague, Netherlands, where Royal Dutch Shell is headquartered.
The company faces a legal action in the Netherlands for repeated oil spills, brought by residents of the Niger Delta, with support from Friends of the Earth Netherlands and Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
"Shell will be dragged from the boardroom to the courthouse, time and again, until the company addresses the injustices at the root of the Niger Delta crisis and puts an end to its environmental devastation," said Elizabeth Bast, International Program Director for Friends of the Earth U.S. "Communities, human rights lawyers and activists will continue to demand justice with the same determination and hope shown by Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people."