Verdict on first phase of the Milieudefensie and Nigerians vs. Shell appeal due on 14 July

The Hague, 27 March 2015 – On 14 July 2015, the Dutch court will rule on the first phase of the appeal in the legal case of Milieudefensie [Friends of the Earth Netherlands] and four Nigerian farmers versus Shell.

 This case centres on oil spills from Shell pipelines in three villages in the Niger Delta. On 14 July it will become clear whether the Dutch court is authorised to rule on Shell's subsidiary in Nigeria and whether Milieudefensie and the Nigerian plaintiffs will be permitted to examine internal Shell documents. Then the substantive proceedings of the appeal will follow.

During the first session of the appeal in the Court in The Hague on 12 March, the lawyer for Milieudefensie and the Nigerian victims, requested examination of Shell internal documents which could show that Shell was negligent in allowing spills to occur in the three villages. Shell has resisted giving access to these documents and has stated that they are not relevant to the case. The documents include maintenance reports and internal investigation into the state of the leaking pipelines. In a recent, comparable case in which Shell was brought before a British court for spills in another Nigerian village (1), similar documents provided key evidence.
Shell evades liability

Today, in the first phase of the appeal, Shell again disputed the competence of the court to rule on Shell's subsidiary in Nigeria. This is one of the many formal objections that Shell has continued to raise during the nearly seven-year-long legal case. Regarding this, Channa Samkalden said: 'This implausible tangle of formal objections evidently serves no other purpose than to avoid getting to the substantive proceedings of the case.'
The real issue: damage from Shell oil spills

These substantive proceedings have to do with the clean-up of oil spilled from Shell pipelines in the three villages. Shell claims that the oil has been cleaned up. But an incriminating investigative report by the United Nations in 2011 (2) showed that many oil spills in the Niger Delta have not been properly cleaned up at all, and unfortunately this is also true in the three villages involved in the Milieudefensie case.

Geert Ritsema, head of the Energy campaign at Milieudefensie, visited the villages last month and talked with the four plaintiffs about the influence that the pollution in this case still has on their daily lives (3). Ritsema: 'People eat, drink and breathe oil there, every day. You can’t always see it, because the oil has penetrated deeply into the ground after all these years. But nearly nothing can be grown, and breeding or catching fish is practically impossible. Due to this, our plaintiffs have been forced to give up farming and can scarcely survive. In all these years they have received no help at all from Shell.'

1) The Guardian: Shell announces 55m payout for Nigeria oil spills
2) UNEP report on oil pollution in Nigeria (2011)
Interview with plaintiff Eric Dooh from Goi (march 2015)
Interview with plaintiff Elder Friday from Ikot Ada Udo (march 2015)
Interview with plaintiff Alali Efanga from Oruma (march 2015)
Interview with plaintiff Chief Fidelis from Oruma (march 2015)

Child on bank of polluted river in the town of Goi. Photo: Marten van Dijk