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Four Nigerian Farmers Take Oil Giant Shell to Court


By Ben Amunwa on December 1, 2009

Oil Multinational Charged in the Hague For Pollution in Nigeria
Tuesday 1 st December

Amsterdam & London – A unique court case, brought by four Nigerian victims of Shell oil spills, in conjunction with Friends of the Earth Netherlands, begins on Thursday 3rd December in the court at The Hague. This is the first time in history that a Dutch company has been brought to trial before a Dutch court for damages abroad.

The Nigerian farmers and fishers, who lost their livelihoods after oil from leaking Shell pipelines streamed over their fields and fishing ponds, are claiming compensation from the Anglo-Dutch oil giant. They also want Shell to clean up the oil which remains in the land, so that they can return to farming and fishing.

The four victims of the leaks are from three Nigerian villages.  They have subpoenaed both Shell’s subsidiary in Nigeria and Shell’s Dutch headquarters. They allege that as the result of Shell’s negligence, agricultural lands have been devastated, drinking water polluted, fish ponds made unusable and the environment and health of local people harmed.

Shell denies all responsibility and contends that the Dutch court has no jurisdiction over its Nigerian subsidiary. Therefore, at Shell’s request, the court will first address the question of whether Shell Nigeria can be called to account before the Dutch court. Then it will consider whether the Shell parent company is liable for the pollution in Nigeria, something which the oil giant disputes.

Geert Ritsema of Milieudefensie said, ‘Shell earns billions in profits. At the same time, the company does not comply with law, is responsible for environmental pollution and harms the interests of farmers and fishers in Nigeria, who have no other means of earning a living. It is sad but predictable that Shell is resorting to legal technicalities to avoid taking responsibility for the environment.’

According to Milieudefensie, the oil leaks in the three Nigerian villages are not just isolated incidents. For the people of the Niger Delta, oil spills are a daily occurrence, part of Shell’s systematic routine of pollution and contempt for the rights of the local population over four decades.

Speaking on behalf of the victims in Nigeria, Lawyer Chima Williams of ERA, Milieudefensie’s Nigerian sister organisation, said: ‘These people have tried in many ways to get Shell to clean up the mess, but they have got nowhere. Now, as a last resort, they are trying to obtain justice in the Netherlands.’

Representatives of the Nigerian community in the Netherlands have announced that they will organise a courthouse rally in solidarity with the four Nigerian farmers during the legal proceedings on Thursday.



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