Shell: Dutch Court rules in favour of wives of slain Ogoni leaders

A Dutch court said on Wednesday that it had jurisdiction to hear a suit brought against Royal Dutch Shell by Esther Kiobel and three other Ogoni widows with regard to Shell’s involvement in the alleged unlawful arrest, detention and execution of their husbands by the Nigerian military government in 1995.
It ruled in favour of the Ogoni widows, the plaintiffs, that the court does have jurisdiction of the case and that it should not be time barred.
The court also ruled that Shell should hand over some confidential internal documents to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, and that they would have the opportunity to examine witnesses.
In a preliminary decision, judges at the Hague District Court said that they would allow the suit to go forward, a rare win in a decade-long legal fight, though the claimants must still prove Shell’s liability.
“This procedure will continue,” said presiding judge Larissa Alwin, reading the decision of a three-judge panel, according to Reuters.
The men executed were among a group that became known as the ‘Ogoni Nine’ – activists who included writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.
The group had protested against Shell’s exploitation of the Niger Delta, particularly Ogoni land. Its nine members were arrested and hanged after a flawed trial that turned international opinion against Nigeria’s then-military rulers.
Alwin ordered Shell to turn over documents that could help the claimants’ case, specifically any evidence that Shell paid people to give false information about the activists to Nigerian law-enforcement officials.
Dutch courts do not award large punitive damages claims, though the case has the potential to embarrass Shell and provide a measure of comfort for the activists’ families if it finds the company bears responsibility in their deaths.
Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula are suing Shell over what they say is its role in the unlawful arrest, detention and execution of their husbands by the Nigerian military government, following a brutal crackdown on Ogoni protests against Shell’s devastating pollution.
“I am glad that the court has found it has jurisdiction,” lead plaintiff Esther Kiobel, whose husband Barinem Kiobel was among those executed, said outside the courtroom.
“My husband was killed like a criminal. I want him to be exonerated.”
Relatives have sought to hold the Anglo-Dutch energy company partially responsible in foreign courts, after exhausting legal possibilities in Nigeria.
Shell, headquartered in The Hague, paid $15.5 million to one group of activists’ families, including the Saro-Wiwa estate, in the United States in a 2009 settlement in which Shell also denied any responsibility or wrongdoing.
A second group led by Kiobel fought on in the United States until the U.S. Supreme Court rejected jurisdiction in 2013. Backed by Amnesty International, Kiobel and three other widows have continued legal action in Britain and the Netherlands.
“We’re not doing this to settle, we’re seeking to hold Shell to account,” Amnesty’s Head of Business and Human Rights, Mark Dummett, said after the ruling, which he described as a “mixed decision”.
He said that he was disappointed judges had rejected broader arguments that Shell was intertwined with the military government in power in Nigeria in 1995. But he was pleased the court had accepted jurisdiction and disregarded Shell’s arguments that the case was too old to hear.
The judges rejected assertions by the widows that Shell should have done more to prevent their husbands’ executions.
“This decision marks a vital step towards justice for Esther and the other plaintiffs. It also sets an important precedent for other victims around the world who are seeking to hold powerful corporations to account, and who struggle to access justice.
“We salute Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula. It’s only because of their courage and persistence that we’ve got this far.
“The women believe their husbands would still be alive today were it not for Shell’s relentless pursuit of profit, which encouraged the Nigerian government’s bloody crackdown on protesters even when it knew the deadly human cost. Shell might now face questioning in a court of law about what they knew and how they contributed to this horrifying event in Nigerian history.
“Today’s ruling will have great significance for people everywhere who have been harmed by the greed and recklessness of global corporations”, Dummett said.
“We continue to deny all the allegations in the strongest possible terms,” Shell representative, Igo Weli, said outside the court.
“Shell was not responsible for what happened. Shell actually made an appeal for clemency (in the Ogoni Nine case), but sadly this was not heard.”
Weli, who works for Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, said the company would give the claimants access to internal documents as ordered.
No date has yet been set for a next hearing to submit additional evidence or a final decision.
Amnesty International has independently documented Shell’s role in killings, rape and torture carried out by the Nigerian government in its effort to crush protests.
Barinem Kiobel, Baribor Bera, Nordu Eawo and Paul Levula were hanged in 1995 after a blatantly unfair trial. Their widows are now demanding compensation and a public apology from Shell for the role the company played in these events. Five other men, including protest leader and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, were executed alongside them. They have become collectively known as the Ogoni Nine.

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