THE High Court will decide tomorrow whether rural communities in Nigeria devastated by oil spills will have their cases against Shell UK Limited heard in Britain — in what could become landmark victories.
If the ruling is made in the communities’ favour, it would mean that other transnational firms based in Britain can then be held to account for cases of human rights abuse overseas.
But Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), argues that the case falls outside British jurisdiction.
Rights charity Amnesty International said that communities affected by oil pollution regularly face “insurmountable challenges” in Nigeria when trying to take Shell to court.
Two separate legal actions have been brought against Shell on behalf of more than 42,000 people from the Ogale and Bille communities in the Niger delta in Nigeria’s southern Rivers State, whose lives have been blighted by the pollution caused by oil spills.
People living in the delta have been affected by hundreds of oil spills each year, and this pollution has been going on for decades, Amnesty has reported.
It says that residents’ “environment and livelihoods were destroyed by oil spills.”
Under Nigerian law SPDC, the largest oil operator in the region, is liable for clean-up operations, whatever the cause.
But many contractors have been failing to do so properly, according to a report published by Amnesty in 2015.
The charity reported that women, men and children living in the delta have to drink, cook with and wash in polluted water.
Pollution has also entered the food chain as land to grow crops has been contaminated as well as the fish that are eaten.
The effect on the health of the affected communities is said to include breathing problems and skin lesions.
Sarah Shoraka of the global oil and environment campaign group Platform London said: “Shell continues a colonial tradition in which fossil fuels are extracted in the Niger delta and shipped to North America and Europe.
“It acts with impunity destroying health and livelihoods. Shell is a UK company and must be held to account for its human rights abuses in the UK courts.”
Shell has been pumping oil from the delta since 1958, when Nigeria was still a British colony.
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