The Court of Appeal in The Hague has recognized the jurisdiction of the Dutch courts in the case of Friends of the Earth Netherlands and several Nigerian farmers against Shell. It also ordered Shell to disclose internal documents that could provide more clarity on the company’s involvement in a number of oil spills in Nigeria. The farmers, represented by Channa Samkalden, hold the oil company responsible for the damages caused by oil spills on their fields and in their fish ponds between 2004-2007. They demand compensation, thorough cleaning of their land and that Shell takes measures in order to prevent recurrence.
The case has been ongoing since 2008. It is the first case in which a Dutch multinational has been summoned to appear before the Dutch courts for causing environmental damage abroad. The Court of Appeal held that the relationship between the Dutch parent company Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary is sufficiently close to render the Dutch court competent to rule on the merits of the case. In first instance, the District Court of The Hague had already recognized the jurisdiction of the Dutch courts in this case.
The judgment is of great importance for foreign victims of human rights violations and other damages caused by subsidiaries of Dutch multinationals. The Court of Appeal has set a strong legal precedent which provides such victims with an opportunity to bring their case against those companies to the Dutch courts.
Whether or not Shell can be held responsible for the damage done to the Nigerian farmers still needs to be determined. In that regard, the Court of Appeal has suggested that the relevant pipelines be excavated in order to make the proper examination of the causes of the oil spills possible. The court’s decision to grant their request to disclose Shell's internal documents, provides claimants with a fair chance to further substantiate their position that Shell is responsible for the damage in question. Channa Samkalden is pleased that the Court of Appeals has not been led astray by the legal bickering on formalities, thereby paving the way for a proper assessment of the merits of the case.
Annexes (in Dutch):
- Court of Appeal of the Hague (Dooh), ECLI:NL:GHDHA:2015:3586, 18 December 2015
- Court of Appeal of the Hague (Akpan), ECLI:NL:GHDHA:2015:3587, 18 December 2015
- Court of Appeal of the Hague (Oguru/Efanga), ECLI:NL:GHDHA:2015:3588, ECLI:NL:GHDHA:2015:3588, 18 December 2015
- Press release Court of Appeal of the Hague, 18 December 2015