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THE GUARDIAN: Dutch court favours widows of Ogoni Nine in case vs Shell

Esther Kiobel (center) and Victoria Bera (right) with their lawyer Channa Samkalden for the verdict at the court in The Hague. Photo: Bart Hoogveld for the FD

A Dutch court ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear a damages suit brought against Royal Dutch Shell by four widows of the Ogoni Nine, environmental activists executed by the Nigerian government in 1995.

The four widows accuse Shell of being complicit in a crackdown by the government against peaceful protesters in Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta.

The judges at the Hague District Court said they will allow the suit to go forward, though the claimants must still prove their case against Shell. Shell denies wrongdoing in the case that has gone on for decades.

“We shall prove our case. We have the evidence,” she said. “I wouldn’t be fighting this fight if I didn’t have what it takes. I’ve been fighting for decades,” said Esther Kiobel, whose husband, Dr Barinem Kiobel, was among the Ogoni Nine.

She expressed delight at the courts ruling that it had jurisdiction to hear the suit.

“I am glad that the court has found it has jurisdiction,” Kiobel said outside the courtroom.

“My husband was killed like a criminal. I want him to be exonerated.”

The Ogoni Nine, who included writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, had protested against Shell’s exploitation of the Niger Delta. They were arrested and hanged after a flawed trial that turned international opinion against Nigeria’s then-military rulers.

The presiding judge, Larissa 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.

After exhausting the legal possibilities in Nigeria.

In 2009, Shell, headquartered in the Hague, paid $15.5 million in settlement to one group of activists’ families, including the Saro-Wiwa estate, in the United States.

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 Mark Dummett said after the ruling, which he described as a “mixed decision”.

He said 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.

Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited said in a statement: “We have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made in this tragic case and believe the evidence clearly shows that Shell was not responsible for these distressing events. Until we have reviewed the detail of the court’s ruling it would not be appropriate to comment in more detail.”

Shell representative Igo Weli said the company would give the claimants access to internal documents as ordered.


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