Friends of the Earth: Shell accused of contempt of court over continued illegal gas flaring: “The ruling recognizes that gas flaring is a serious human rights violation”; Friday December 16, 2005
Contempt of court proceedings were today (16 December 2005) started against Shell Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for failing to comply with a court order, issued by the Federal High Court of Nigeria on 14 November 2005, to stop flaring gas with immediate effect in Iwherekan community, Delta state. The court found gas flaring to be a "gross violation" of the rights to life and dignity.
People from the Iwherekan community have confirmed that flaring, a by-product of oil extraction, has continued unchecked since 14 November 2005. Shell has therefore been in contempt of court since this date. The contempt of court notice is being filed by a member of the Iwherekan community in Delta State on behalf of himself and the Iwherekan community, with the support of Environmental Rights Action (Friends of the Earth Nigeria), the Climate Justice Programme and Friends of the Earth.
Across the Delta, the giant orange flares burn all day and night, many of them close to peoples' homes. Local communities suffer higher rates of respiratory diseases such as asthma because of the toxic chemicals in the gas and have to suffer constant noise, light and heat. Crop yields are damaged by air pollution. The flaring pumps clouds of black toxic smoke into the sky, causing more greenhouse gas emissions than any other single source in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank .
Friends of the Earth's Rights and Justice Campaigner, Alison Dilworth, said:
"It is a disgrace that Shell has continued to flare gas, even though Nigeria's high court has ruled it illegal and a breach of human rights. Once again, Shell has demonstrated its ongoing contempt for the people of the Niger Delta and the rule of law."
Reverend Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action (Friends of the Earth Nigeria), said:
"Since judgement was passed Shell has not halted her illegal activities. What we are witnessing is a clear demonstration of the fact that Shell has scant respect for the lives of the people in whose communities they carry on their business. While the people are dying, Shell cares only for her profits. We see a multinational corporation that has no respect for the rule of law but who at every turn loves to characterise local people as vandals and saboteurs. Who is the vandal: Shell or the people? Shell is contemptuous of our laws, of our peoples and of our environment. We are ashamed that our government is in an unholy wedlock with a corporation such as this."
Peter Roderick of the Climate Justice Programme said:
"So soon after its fraud over Nigerian reserves, it's astonishing that Shell has not complied with this court order preventing it from continuing gross violations of human rights. Its behaviour seriously undermines respect for the rule of law that its operations depend on."
Notes to editors
Contempt proceedings were filed today, 16 December 2005, by Mr Jonah Gbemre, on behalf of himself and the Iwherekan community, Delta State at the Federal High Court of Nigeria, sitting in Benin City, against the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
On 14 November 2004, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation were ordered by the Federal High Court of Nigeria to stop flaring gas in the Iwherekan community, in the Niger Delta, as it violates the rights to life and dignity, guaranteed under the Constitution of Nigeria. The Judge also declared that the gas flaring laws were "unconstitutional, null and void".
Shell has appealed against the High Court's ruling on procedural grounds, challenging the court's competence to try the case, and against the judgment. However, without a `stay of execution' this does not free Shell from its obligation to immediately end flaring in Iwherekan community. No stay of execution has been granted. An application for a stay of execution by Shell and NNPC is due to be heard on 20 December 2005.
This original case brought by Mr Jonah Gbemre, on behalf of himself and the Iwherekan community in Delta State, supported by Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA) and the Climate Justice Programme (CJP).
All the major multinational oil companies in Nigeria flare gas, in joint ventures with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and the breadth of the ruling makes it clear that their flaring is also illegal.
The ruling recognizes that gas flaring is a serious human rights violation; a violation which has gone unchecked for almost 50 years across the Delta earning profits for oil companies including Shell while contributing to the degradation of the local environment, on which local communities depend, and to global climate change. Nigeria has been the world's biggest gas flarer and the practice has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combine, as well as poisoning localities with a cocktail of toxins. Furthermore, the practice costs Nigeria about US$2.5 billion annually, while 66% of its population live on less than US$1 a day.
The Climate Justice Programme is an initiative hosted by Friends of the Earth International. It aims to encourage and support the enforcement of the law internationally to combat climate change. Over 70 organisations and lawyers are signatories to its Statement of Support, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF and organizations based in developing countries: www.climatelaw.org
Photographs of gas flaring in the Niger Delta are downloadable, without watermarks,
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