New evidence in legal case involving Shell oil spills in Nigeria

On Thursday, 12 March 2015, Milieudefensie [Friends of the Earth Netherlands] and four Nigerian farmers will present additional evidence to the Court of Appeal in The Hague in their ongoing legal case against Shell.

Neglicence led to devastating oil spills

The case involves negligence by Shell in the maintenance and security of pipelines in the vicinity of the Nigerian villages of Goi, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo, which led to devastating oil spills. The new evidence comes from sources including a similar international legal case involving oil pollution by Shell, in the Nigerian village of Bodo, located nearby Goi. Just as the victims there, the farmers and Milieudefensie state in their case that Shell, as owner of the pipelines, is responsible for the spills and thus must clean them up, pay compensation and prevent new leaks. According to Milieudefensie and the farmers, this applies not only to Shell's subsidiary in Nigeria, but also extends to Shell’s headquarters in the Netherlands, which directs the office in Nigeria on a daily basis.

Milieudefensie is awaiting the appeal with confidence, in the case which has been ongoing for seven years. In 2013, the court asked the plaintiffs for more evidence of Shell's negligence. Their lawyer had then submitted, among others, internal Shell reports on outdated and rusted pipelines and a UN report (1) informing of oil pollution which has not been (properly) cleaned up. Geert Ritsema, head of the Energy and Raw Materials campaign at Milieudefensie, states, ‘We wonder how much evidence is necessary and believe that Shell should have to prove it was not negligent. But nonetheless, we have submitted additional incriminating evidence.’
This new evidence comes in part from another legal case against Shell in Nigeria, brought in Britain by a renowned law office. That case involved spills in the village of Bodo, a village which is located nearby Goi, one of the villages named in the Milieudefensie legal case. The spills in both villages originated from the same pipeline. In January, Shell settled the British case for millions (2); evidence that the leaking pipeline had been poorly maintained, which came from Shell’s own documentation, was indisputable.

Shell withholds documents that could throw new light on the case

Geert Ritsema states, ‘This information again shows that the spills in Goi were also caused by poor maintenance and not by sabotage, as Shell claims. It’s good that we have been able to obtain this additional evidence in an indirect way, through the British case. Shell has leaked everything, except information: for seven years they have been refusing our requests to examine internal documents. Until now the courts have upheld their refusal. This example shows that Shell is withholding the documents for a good reason – they really could throw new light on the case. On 12 March, our lawyer will again request examination of documents involving the other two villages in our case, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo.’

Milieudefensie and the victimised farmers filed charges against Shell in 2008. In 2013, the court in The Hague ruled that in one of the three villages, Shell was indeed responsible and was ordered to pay compensation. This was unique: it was the first time that a Dutch multinational was found guilty in a Dutch court of environmental and human rights violations abroad. Despite much evidence, however, the court did not find that Shell’s liability had been conclusively proven in the other two villages, and also ruled that Shell’s international headquarters in the Netherlands was not guilty. Milieudefensie is appealing those decisions. Shell is appealing the case concerning the village where it was found guilty and is also again appealing the competence of the Dutch court to rule on Shell's subsidiary in Nigeria.

Shell’s legal tactics lead to delays in the substantive case

Geert Ritsema states, ‘This last, formal step in one of the reasons that we are just now getting to the appeal, seven years later. Shell constantly comes up with new procedural issues. Withholding documentation is another such procedural tactic. Shell has gone to great lengths to do so: last year we even discovered that Shell lied in court in this case (3). These kinds of obstacles keep us from getting to the substantive case. In the meantime, the farmers, their families and their neighbours have been living in the middle of the oil for all these years. I visited them there last week: you eat, drink and breathe oil there. Nearly nothing can be grown, fish and animals are dying, and ultimately so are the people.’
Shell victims dying before they can obtain justice

In Nigeria there are also hundreds of legal cases that have been dragging on for years: Shell has plenty of funds to delay these endlessly or to buy them off. The poverty-stricken victims are often forced to give up, or they pass away. Due to Shell’s pollution, many people in the Niger Delta die well before they reach 50 years of age, and thus ironically don’t have enough time to win justice from that same company.

‘As far as that is concerned, Shell shows no mercy’, says Ritsema. ‘In our case, too, one of the plaintiffs has passed away in the meantime. The fact that impoverished Nigerians come all the way to the Netherlands shows how desperate they are. The people of the Delta have been plagued by sickness and death since the arrival of Shell, nearly 60 years ago, and their poverty has only increased. The salary that Shell pays its expensive lawyers to continue to deprive these people of the right to a healthy environment could have been much better spent on running their operations properly. That would have saved a great deal of money and time, and moreover, a great deal of sickness and death.’

More information:
Milieudefensie press office, +31(0)20557333 or on 12 March: +31(0)6-29593872 (press officer Marlijn Dingshoff)

The appeal, in which both parties will present their pleas, takes place on 12 March at 10 AM and is likely to last the entire morning. Location: Court of Appeal, The Hague, Prins Clauslaan 60.

Background information, all legal documents, a timeline of the legal case and news on the court case

(1) Press release on UNEP report Ogoniland, August 2011
(2) The Guardian, January 7, 2015: Shell announces 55m payout for Nigeria oil spills
(3) Press release Milieudefensie, November 17, 2014: Shell lied to Dutch court about oil pollution in Nigeria

Oil pollution in the Niger Delta - photo: Marten van Dijl/Milieudefensie

More information about Shell Nigeria