Shell lawsuit (re executions in Nigeria, Kiobel v Shell, filed in the Netherlands)
Kiobel v. Shell
Esther Kiobel is the wife of Dr. Barinem Kiobel- an Ogoni activist who was member of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and eleven other Nigerians from the Ogoni region. In the 1990s MOSOP campaigned against the environmental damage caused by oil extraction in the Ogoni region of Nigeria and for increased autonomy for the Ogoni ethnic group. Barinem Kiobel and other members of MOSOP were detained illegally in 1994, held incommunicado in military custody, then tried by a special court established by the military government using procedures in violation of international fair trial standards, convicted of murder and executed. They were also known as the “Ogoni Nine”.
Proceedings in the Netherlands
In October 2016, Esther Kiobel filed an application with a New York District Court under the US Foreign Legal Assistance Statute to gain access to important documents from the original US case, to be used in a lawsuit against Shell in the Netherlands. The documents are in the possession of Shell’s lawyers, Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP.
On 24 January 2017, Cravath Swaine & Moore were ordered to turn over the documents. On 13 February, the law firm appealed the decision arguing that it will suffer because foreign companies will be disinclined from hiring US lawyers if such wide discovery requests are granted. A US court of appeals reversed the decision. Esther Kiobel asked the US Supreme Court to review the decision. On 7 January 2019, the US Supreme Court denied her petition.
In June 2017, Esther Kiobel and three other women launched a civil case against Shell in the Netherlands. They claim the company was complicit in the 1995 killings of their husbands, part of the Ogoni 9 activists who contested Shell's operations and the Nigerian Government over the effects of oil pollution. Shell has denied any involvement in their executions. On 1 May 2019, a Dutch court said it has jurisdiction to hear the case and ruled that Shell should hand over confidential internal documents to the claimants.
On 23 March 2022, a court in The Hague dismissed Esther Kiobel's civil case due to insufficient evidence to link Shell to bribing witnesses to give false testimony at the “Ogoni Nine”'s trial that led to their execution. “The witnesses’ testimony relies for a large part on assumptions and interpretations and cannot be enough to conclude that the money that they received at the time actually was from SPDC [ The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria], and that actual employees of SPDC were present,” Judge Larissa Alwin said. Shell has always denied the allegations. Esther Kiobel said she will appeal the decision.
On 7 November 2022, a lawyer representing four of the widows announced they had cancelled further legal proceedings against Shell in Dutch courts. The claimants sought to hold the oil company liable for damages in the Netherlands. Their lawyer explained that efforts were being devoted to providing the women with financial assistance, as opposed to pursuing an appeal.
- Nigeria: Widows of Ogoni Leaders Killed By Abacha Sue Shell in Netherlands, Premium Times (Nigeria), 2017