Four Nigerian residents and an advocacy group told a Dutch court on Thursday that Shell [corporate website] should be held liable [press release, in Dutch] for damage from oil pollution in the Niger Delta. The suit, which was filed by the four villagers and Friends of the Earth Netherlands [advocacy website, in Dutch] in 2008, is the first time a Dutch company has been sued for the alleged misconduct of its foreign subsidiary. Shell has maintained throughout the trial that the case should be heard in Nigeria and that the Dutch court does not have jurisdiction. In a press release, Friends of the Earth Netherlands said that the case could set an international precedent encouraging victims of pollution by Western corporations to sue in the Netherlands and other nations in the EU, noting that there are hundreds of thousands of pollution victims in Nigeria alone. Shell has argued that the pollution damage was caused by thieves who sabotaged the oil lines and that its local subsidiary fulfilled its duty in cleaning up the spills. The verdict in this case is expected by early 2013.
Similar pollution lawsuits against Shell are pending in the US and the UK. The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] last week in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. [SCOTUSblog backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The court heard new arguments on whether three oil companies, including Shell, are immune from US lawsuits under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 (ATS) [text] for alleged torture and international law violations that took place overseas. The court initially heard arguments in February and then directed the parties to file briefs on a new question [JURIST reports] for this term, which asked if the ATS can ever be used against against non-state citizens for atrocities committed in that state, and under what circumstances. JURIST Guest Columnists Michael Hausfeld and Kristen Ward Broz of Hausfeld, LLP have argued [JURIST op-ed] that the jurisdiction of US courts should apply to any entity that has a presence within the US, while the Obama administration urged the Supreme Court to limit corporate liability overseas and dismiss the case [JURIST report]. In the UK, 35 Nigerian villages brought a suit against Shell in a London court in March, alleging Shell's slow response in cleaning up two oil spills [JURIST report] in a Nigerian river ruined their livelihoods.