30 Jan 2013

Shell liable for damages in Niger Delta pollution claim

A court in the Netherlands has ruled that Anglo-Dutch energy multinational Royal Dutch Shell is partially responsible for polluting Africa's Niger Delta and must pay damages to a local claimant, in a ruling handed down earlier today.

Niger Delta: pollution ruling

Niger Delta: pollution ruling

Nigeria publication Business Day reports that one farmer will receive as yet undisclosed damages from the global oil giant, but three other claimants saw their cases dismissed.

Watershed ruling

The report maintains the case – which was brought by the Dutch arm of the environmental campaigning group Friends of the Earth -- is the first time a Netherlands multinational has been sued in the country’s civil courts for alleged damages caused overseas.
According to the newspaper, the claimants asked the court to force Shell to mop up oil leaks allegedly afflicting three local villages, to repair bust pipeline and to cough up compensation. However, the oil company claims that regional instability have hindered its clean-up and maintenance efforts.

Obstacles to justice

Reacting to the Dutch court’s ruling, London based human rights group Amnesty International said the case illustrated the difficulties developing country communities face in challenging multinational corporate behaviour. ‘It’s good news that one of the plaintiffs in this case managed to clamber over all the obstacles to something approaching justice,’ commented Amnesty’s Africa programme director Audrey Gaughran, pointing out that the Dutch court found Shell had a duty of care in preventing tampering with its pipelines.
‘However,’ continued Ms Gaughran, ‘the fact that the other plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed underscores the very serious obstacles people from the Niger Delta face in accessing justice when their lives have been destroyed by oil pollution. Given the really serious difficulties of bringing these cases at all, the significance of today’s ruling is that one plaintiff prevailed and will get damages. It is clear that governments need to look at the formidable obstacles claimants face especially when taking massive oil companies to court.’