Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shell sued in Netherlands for pollution in Ogoni, Akwa Ibom

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The suit is the first time the oil giant will be sued in its home country for ‘crimes’ committed abroad .

Oil giant, Shell, is to appear before Dutch Court, Thursday, in an unprecedented lawsuit from four Niger Delta villagers who accuse the company of polluting their farms.

The farmers seek unspecified claims for three spills between 2004 and 2007.

The case is set to last a day. Lawyers for both sides will present arguments before the judges retire to give their verdicts next year, news agency Reuters says.

If the case is successful, it would set a precedent, paving the way for thousands of other compensation claims from locals affected by years of oil operations.

The case was filed by the four farmers and the Dutch branch of environmental activist group, Friends of the Earth.

Shell has had a notorious history of operations in the Niger Delta for decades. With a daily output of at least 1 million barrels of oil per day, the company is Nigeria’s biggest oil producer. Yet, most of its activities have been embroiled in controversies with allegations of environmental abuses and human rights violations.

The company was accused of complicity in the execution of leading activist Ken Saro Wiwa by the Sani Abacha military dictatorship in 1995.

Shell reached a US$ 1.2 million settlement against a lawsuit blaming it of connivance with the military authorities in the case, amid other abuses.

Last year, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme said more than 50 years of operations by companies, mainly Shell, had devastated Ogoni area more than envisaged. The report said at least US$1 billion would be needed to restore the area.

Activists have accused Shell and the Nigerian government of not showing sufficient commitments to implementing the UN recommendations.

Shell also faced legal action this month in the United States, where the U.S. Supreme court is hearing a case in which Nigerian refugees accused the oil giant of aiding the Nigerian military in the torture and killing of environmentalists in the 1990s.

Thursday’s case is the first time the company, or any other Dutch multinational, is being put on trial in a civil court at home, in connection with damage caused abroad, the BBC says.

Shell has its headquarters at The Hague in Netherlands.

The Anglo-Dutch firm claims the more than half of the spills cited in the court case were caused by pipeline vandalism and oil theft. But the farmers say the spills have destroyed their livelihoods by damaging crops and fish-farms.

One of the plaintiffs, Friday Alfred Akpan, from the village of Ikot Ada Udo, in Akwa Ibom, is quoted by the BBC as saying that oil leaks in his village had badly damaged his 47 fish ponds.

“Fish died as a result of the oil spill, making it difficult for me to live and put my children through school,” Mr. Akpan said.

Another farmer from Goi community in Ogoni, Eric Dooh, told Reuters that his “community is a ghost land as a result of the devastation. We had good vegetation. Today people have respiratory problems and are getting sick.”

Shell’s Vice President for environment. Allard Castelein, is quoted as saying the “matter has been resolved as far as we are concerned and we do not properly understand why Friends of the Earth has submitted the case.”

Mr. Castelein also told the BBC the spills in question “were all caused by sabotage.”

“I mean, there’s video evidence. There’s signed testimonies by joint investigation teams that are constituted of the local municipality, the company, the government,” he said.

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