The District Court of the Hague has issued an interim ruling in favour of wives of Ogoni leaders killed in 1995 during the military era of Sani Abacha.
The case, which was instituted by four wives of the slain leaders — Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula — accused Shell of being involved in the decision by the Nigerian government that led to the killing of their husbands.
The plaintiffs are also calling on the court to order Shell to hand over more than 100,000 internal documents crucial to the case. Shell’s lawyers have refused to do so, even though these documents were submitted as evidence in the US case.
Shell had said that the Dutch court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, but the court ordered that the case must continue.
In its ruling on Wednesday, the court ordered that the case should not be time barred, while also granting the prayers of the plaintiffs that Shell should hand over the confidential internal documents to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, and that they would have the opportunity to examine witnesses.
Amnesty International, an international human rights organization, supported Kiobel’s legal team to bring the case to the Netherlands in 2017, and detailed Shell’s role in the arrests and executions in a briefing.
Commending the court for its ruling, Mark Dummett, Amnesty International’s Head of Business and Human Rights, said the ruling would “set an important precedent for other victims around the world who are seeking to hold powerful corporations to account, and who struggle to access justice".
Dummett added: “This decision marks a vital step towards justice for Esther and the other plaintiffs.
“We salute Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula. It’s only because of their courage and persistence that we’ve got this far.
“The women believe their husbands would still be alive today were it not for Shell’s relentless pursuit of profit, which encouraged the Nigerian government’s bloody crackdown on protesters even when it knew the deadly human cost. Shell might now face questioning in a court of law about what they knew and how they contributed to this horrifying event in Nigerian history.
“Today’s ruling will have great significance for people everywhere who have been harmed by the greed and recklessness of global corporations.”
Amnesty International welcomed the court’s decision to order Shell to release some internal documents but is disappointed that it did not order the release of all of those that Esther’s lawyers called for.
Kiobel first filed a case against Shell in New York in 2002, but in 2013 the US Supreme Court ruled that the US did not have jurisdiction to hear the case – meaning the US courts never got to examine the substance of the allegations against Shell.