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ECOWAS court upholds jurisdiction over oil pollution in N’Delta

THE Economic Community of West African West (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice in Abuja has held that it has jurisdiction to entertain a case brought by the Registered Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) against the Federal Government and six oil companies over alleged violation of human rights and associated oil pollution in the Niger Delta.
The court, which also held yesterday that the Nigerian government and its body, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) can be held accountable for human rights violations in the Niger Delta, declined jurisdiction over Chevron Oil Nigeria Plc; Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC); Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd; Exxon Mobil Corporation, Agip Nigeria Plc; and Total Nigeria Plc.
In the ruling delivered on the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Day, the court held that: “The Federal Government of Nigeria signed the ECOWAS Treaty as well as other community instruments like the Protocols on Democracy and Good Governance and on the Competence of the Community Court of Justice.   Therefore, there is no doubt with respect to the jurisdiction of the court to adjudicate any case of alleged violation of human rights that occur in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and for which it should be held accountable.”
The decision of the court was sequel to the preliminary objections filed by the defendants against the suit by SERAP’s counsel, Femi Falana, Adetokunbo Mumuni and Sola Egbeyinka.
In the suit, the Federal Government was represented by Mr. T.A. Gazali; Mr. Dafe Akpedeye (SAN) represented the NNPC; Prof. Fidelis Oditah (SAN) represented Shell; Mrs. M.A. Essien (SAN) represented ELF and Exxon Mobil; Mark Mordi represented Agip Nigeria Plc; N.A. Idakwuo represented Chevron Plc; and F.R. Onoja represented Total Nigeria Plc.
On the argument by the NNPC that SERAP filed the action on behalf of the people of the Niger Delta, which is not a person known to law, and therefore cannot sue or be sued, the ECOWAS Court held: “The consideration made about the Niger Delta region or people from Niger Delta as a non-existing entity is based on the assumption that the action is a representative one, that is, the application was filed on behalf of people from Niger Delta. That assertion is, however, wrong because SERAP is not the people from Niger Delta but a non-governmental organisation acting on its own without claiming to represent anyone else.”
Also, on the argument by Shell that SERAP is not a person under Nigerian law, the ECOWAS Court held that: “What emerges from the evidence produced before the Court is that SERAP is an entity duly and legally registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Decree 1 of 1999 of Nigeria. SERAP’s legal capacity was admitted by this court in a previous case the organisation filed against the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Universal Basic Education Commission. Consequently, the court holds that SERAP is a legal entity duly constituted.”
The court also held: “With respect to the alleged lack of locus standi by SERAP, the analysis of the court firstly relies on the nature of the dispute brought before it for adjudication. In fact, the application is related to the alleged violation of the human rights of the people who inhabit the region of Niger Delta.
“The framework presented in the application is not only of violation of an individual’s rights, but of rights of entire communities as well as environmental devastation without sufficient and protective intervention from public authorities. There is a large consensus in international law that when the issue at stake is the violation of rights of entire communities, as in the case of the damage to the environment, the access to justice should be facilitated.
“Taking into account the need to reinforce access to justice for the protection of human and people rights in the African context, the court holds that an NGO duly constituted according to national law of any ECOWAS Member State, and enjoying observer status before ECOWAS institutions, can file complaints against human rights violation in cases that the victim is not just a single individual, but a large group of individuals or even entire communities.

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Posted by on Jan 19 2011. Filed under Headlines, Niger Delta. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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