January 30, 2013
Dutch Court Ruling Against Shell a Watershed, says ERA

The ruling by a Dutch court today (January 30, 2013) holding Shell
responsible for the pollution of farmlands at Ikot Ada Udo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, is a very important victory indeed. We are however disappointed that the court ruled otherwise with regard to the Goi and Oruma. The court had doubts and concluded that there was no proof that the spills at Goi in Ogoni, Rivers State and Oruma communities in Bayelsa State were not cleaned up.

The plaintiffs from Goi and Oruma will appeal this ruling.

ERA/FoEN in a statement issued in Lagos said the landmark judgment and one key victory set a precedent for global environmental accountability that parent companies, often based in Europe or the United States, can be held accountable for environmental infractions committed by their
subsidiaries anywhere in the world.

In the suit, four farmers, supported by Friends of the Earth, dragged Shell to the Dutch court thousands of miles away from their communities in Nigeria, where Shell’s defective pipelines caused damage to their fishponds and farmlands in 2004, 2005 and 2008 respectively. Shell has consistently denied responsibility. It refused to clean-up the spill and did not pay

Now Shell cannot maintain its ostrich stance with regard to the massive degradation of Ikot Ada Udo community.

The case, which has Milieudefensie as co-Plaintiff, was filed in 2008 and had passed through lots of legal hurdles ostensibly set up by Shell before getting to this point of judgment. While Royal Dutch Shell Plc had maintained that it could not be held responsible for the actions of its subsidiary in Nigeria, the subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria Ltd had insisted that it cannot be tried by the court in the Hague for problems arising from Nigeria.

The Dutch judiciary in 2009 declared itself competent to try the case. Last October, the Dutch court had a full trial of the case whereupon the judgment of today declaring that Shell broke the law by not repairing leaks that destroyed the lands of the four farmers is based on.

“Finding Shell guilty of the spill at Ikot Ada Udo is commendable but and we want to see how Shell has can celebrate the faulty conclusion reached by the court that they can be exonerated from the ecocide at Goi and Oruma. Their disdain for the wellbeing of communities that suffer the impacts of its reckless exploitation of oil in the Niger Delta has been legendary. The spill at Ikot Ada Udo lasted for months and in open farmland and yet Shell had the temerity to fight to avoid culpability. It is just and fair that it is held accountable for this crime,” said ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey.

“This win for the farmers of Ikot Ada Udo has set a precedent as it will be an important step that multinationals can more easily be made answerable for the damage they do in developing countries. We anticipate other communities will now demand that Shell pay for the assault on their environment”.

Until now it’s been very problematic to bring cases against these companies in their home countries, because the difficulties in application of their national legislation to incidents occuring beyond their shores.

ERA/FoEN Director, Programmes and Administration, Godwin Uyi Ojo added that “While we commend the Dutch court ruling, it is now time the western countries pass laws compelling companies to enforce the same environmental responsibility standards abroad as at home.

“Shell’s arguments in the face of incontrovertible evidence has again shown the double standards of the oil companies in treating spills incidents in Nigeria differently from their pollution in Europe or North America. We are still optimistic that this landmark judgment will instigate more communities to seek justice,” Ojo stressed.

Philip Jakpor
Head of Media

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