Thirty-five Nigerian villages brought a suit against Shell [corporate website] Friday in a London court alleging Shell's slow response in cleaning up two oil spills in a neighboring river ruined their livelihoods. The lawsuit [Reuters report] claims Shell is responsible for unspecified damages suffered by the villages which rely on the river for drinking water and farming. The lawsuit comes in response to two spills in 2008. Representatives for Shell claim that the continued contamination is due to theft and sabotage by locals and that Shell's clean-up process was successful in 2009. However, the villages claim that continued contamination is due to the inadequate clean-up process in relation to how much oil was actually spilt, which is about 600,000 barrels according to the tribes.
A similar lawsuit over water contamination has been filed in the US [JURIST report]. The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari in two cases last October to determine whether political organizations and oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, are immune from US lawsuits [JURIST report] under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). The plaintiffs in both cases allege human rights violations against an entity other than an individual person and the circuit courts have reached conflicting decisions with respect to interpretations of the ATS. The Supreme Court's decision will likely have an impact on the outcome of the Nigerian villagers' lawsuit. This case in not the first time Shell has faced legal action in Nigeria, however. A $15.5 million settlement [JURIST report] was reached in June 2009 between Royal Dutch Shell and the families of nine Nigerian activists who were killed in 1995. In 2006, a Nigerian court ordered Shell to pay [JURIST report] $1.5 billion for its role in environmental damages that took place within the country.