Nigerians sue Shell in Netherlands over oil spills

Four Nigerian residents and an advocacy group told a Dutch court on Oct. 11 that Shell should be held liable for damage from oil pollution in the Niger Delta. The suit, which was filed by the four villagers and Friends of the Earth Netherlands in 2008, is the first time a Dutch company has been sued for the alleged misconduct of its foreign subsidiary. Shell has maintained throughout the trial that the case should be heard in Nigeria and that the Dutch court does not have jurisdiction. Friends of the Earth Netherlands says that the case could set an international precedent encouraging victims of pollution by Western corporations to sue in the Netherlands and other nations in the EU, noting that there are hundreds of thousands of pollution victims in Nigeria alone. Shell argues that the pollution damage was caused by thieves who sabotaged the oil lines and that its local subsidiary fulfilled its duty in cleaning up the spills. A verdict in this case is expected by early 2013.

Similar pollution lawsuits against Shell are pending in the US and the UK. The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. The court heard new arguments on whether three oil companies, including Shell, are immune from US lawsuits under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 (ATS) for alleged torture and international law violations that took place overseas. The court initially heard arguments in February and then directed the parties to file briefs on a new question for this term, which asked if the ATS can ever be used against against non-state citizens for atrocities committed in that state, and under what circumstances. The Obama administration urged the Supreme Court to limit corporate liability overseas and dismiss the case. In the UK, 35 Nigerian villages brought a suit against Shell in a London court in March, alleging Shell's slow response in cleaning up two oil spills in a Nigerian river ruined their livelihoods.

From Jurist, Oct. 11. Used with permission.

Chevron was acquitted in a similar US case concerning human rights abuses in Nigeria. Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal of the acquittal in the case, Bowoto vs. Chevron. (San Francisco Chronicle, April 24)