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UPDATE: US Appeals Court Dismisses Nigerian Suit Against Shell

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(Updates with judge's concurring opinion, more details.)

 
   By David Benoit 
   Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES 
 

NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- A U.S. Federal Court of Appeals has dismissed a lawsuit brought by citizens in Nigeria against Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA, RDSA.LN) that had alleged the oil giant was complicit in crimes against humanity in Nigeria, ruling the law the plaintiffs sued under doesn't hold corporations liable.

The Second Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the Alien Tort Statute--a complicated and controversial law authorizing foreign nationals to file U.S. civil actions against those who violate "the law of nations"--only applies to those that international law would hold liable.

"Because no corporation has ever been subject to any form of liability [whether civil or criminal] under the customary international law of human rights, we hold that corporate liability is not a discernable--much less universally recognized--norm of customary international law that we may apply pursuant to the ATS," the decision read, dismissing the case because it doesn't have jurisdiction.

Judge Pierre N. Leval, one of three judges on the panel, while agreeing with the decision to dismiss the suit, warned in a long concurring opinion that the language created "an unprecedented concept of international law" that exempts entities from following the rules.

"The majority's rule conflicts with two centuries of federal precedent on the ATS," Leval wrote, "and deals a blow to the efforts of international law to protect human rights."

Neither lawyers for the Nigerian plaintiffs or Shell were immediately available for comment.

The case involved residents in Nigeria who have claimed that Shell's subsidiaries "aided and abetted the Nigerian government in committing human rights abuses directed at plaintiffs."

The plaintiffs had argued that in 1993, Shell's Nigerian entity sought the help of the Nigerian government in suppressing protests in the Ogoni region of Nigeria, leading to a period of repression. The suit alleged that throughout 1993 and 1994, the Nigerian military murdered, raped and arrested Ogoni people and destroyed their homes.

Shell has denied wrongdoing in the case.

The oil company did pay $15.5 million in 2009 to settle over the 1995 deaths of Nigerian author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and others, saying at that time it believed "the right way forward is to focus on the future for Ogoni people."

 

-By David Benoit, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-227-2017; david.benoit@dowjones.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 17, 2010 14:40 ET (18:40 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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