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23 Nov 2023

Sandra Laville, Guardian (UK)

High Court greenlights human rights claims against Shell in the UK over Niger Delta oil pollution

"Shell to face human rights claims in UK over chronic oil pollution in Niger delta", 23 Nov 2023

Thousands of Nigerian villagers can bring human rights claims against...Shell over the chronic oil pollution of their water sources and destruction of their way of life, the high court in London has ruled.

Mrs Justice May ruled this week that more than 13,000 farmers and fishers from the Ogale and Bille communities in the Niger delta were entitled to bring legal claims against Shell for alleged breaches to their right to a clean environment.

The judge ruled it was arguable the pollution had fundamentally breached the villagers’ right to a clean environment under the Nigerian constitution and the African charter on human and people’s rights. Claims under these rights have no limitation period.

Shell says it has no legal responsibility for the chronic pollution in the Niger delta that villagers say was caused by its subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), which, it is claimed, has destroyed the villagers’ way of life and created serious risks to public health.

Shell, which plans to leave the Niger delta after 80 years of highly profitable operations, has offered the Ogale and Bille communities no remedy or compensation and left the communities chronically polluted...

Matthew Renshaw, the international team partner at Leigh Day, which is representing the villagers, said: “This ruling is a significant moment in the eight-year battle by the Ogale and Bille communities to get Shell to take responsibility for the oil pollution that has blighted their land..."

Three years ago the supreme court unanimously ruled that “there is a good arguable case” that Shell plc (the UK-based parent company) is legally responsible for the pollution caused by its Nigerian subsidiary.

But the case has continued in a series of legal tussles between Shell and the claimants.

A Shell spokesperson said of the latest judgment: “We strongly believe in the merits of our case. Oil is being stolen on an industrial scale in the Niger delta. This criminality is a major source of pollution and is the cause of the majority of spills in the Bille and Ogale claims..."

The ruling this week means the claimants will now prepare for a trial. A hearing will take place on 12 and 13 December for more legal arguments.