The UK Government is facing a series of difficult questions after it surfaced that it has chosen to intervene on behalf of Royal Dutch Shell in a major US court case brought against the oil giant by Nigerian villagers.

Kiobel v Shell is the latest incarnation of a long-running legal battle fought by communities in the Niger Delta, who claim that Shell is responsible for serious human rights abuses and environmental damage in the region.

Over 2,000 oil spills have been reported in the Niger Delta, which, according to Amnesty International, have devastated the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. Yet, the companies responsible, which include Shell, have to date failed to adequately compensate those affected.

The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition, a group of human rights, development and environmental NGOs, is now determined to find out why the UK Government has chosen to intervene and has submitted a wide range of formal Freedom of Information requests.

Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s Economic Relations Programme Director, said:

“The UK Government’s position is wrong and deeply troubling. In intervening in this way, the UK has chosen to champion corporate interests over human rights accountability, purporting to use neutrally applicable arguments about the reach of international law. In practice it has intervened only to defend a UK corporation accused of complicity in gross human rights violations.

The UK has developed its position in secret, without consulting affected groups and in isolation from any cross-cutting approach to business and human rights. While the UK Government claims to support the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as a matter of policy, it undermines that support by attempting to block judicial remedies for human rights abuses committed by a UK company in another country. The Government argues that the US may not legitimately exercise jurisdiction in this case but ignores the possibility that universal jurisdiction for gross human rights abuses committed by corporations is an important element of an international solution to holding companies accountable for their human rights impacts.”

Amnesty International

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