Dutch court will hear widows' case against Shell over deaths of Ogoni Nine
A Dutch court has ruled that it has jurisdiction to determine whether Royal Dutch Shell was complicit in the Nigerian government's execution of the Ogoni Nine, environmental protesters who fought against widespread pollution in the Niger Delta.
In a 50-page ruling hailed by campaigners as an "important precedent" for global human rights cases, judges at The Hague's district court said on Wednesday that they would allow the case to go forward, also indicating that the claimants – widows of four of the activists – would be able to bring further evidence to prove their case.
The ruling, which was partially read out to members of the public, also stipulated that the oil firm must now hand over confidential internal documents.
The four widows accuse Shell of instigating a deadly crackdown by the military government of the time against peaceful protesters in Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta, the most valuable oil-producing region in Africa.
Nine members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, including its leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, were executed in 1995 by the Nigerian authorities, following a widely discredited trial.
Esther Kiobel, whose husband, Dr Barinem Kiobel, was among the nine executed, said the decision would help exonerate the men.
"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."
It has been a 24-year battle to get even this far. After exhausting all legal recourse in Nigeria, Kiobel first brought a class action against Shell in New York in 2002, where the US supreme court finally ruled in 2013 that the case had been filed in the wrong jurisdiction. A writ was then brought in The Hague, where the oil multinational is based.
Shell denies all allegations that it was complicit in the deaths of the Ogoni Nine or human rights abuses, but it has acknowledged that it was aware Nigeria's military was taking action to protect the company's infrastructure. In 2009, it paid out $15.5m (£11.9m) in an out-of-court settlement to Saro-Wiwa's family and others, but denied any wrongdoing.