Iwi leader Mike Smith takes OMV oil boss to International Criminal Court

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Dramatic protest scenes nationwide as an estimated 170,000 people give voice to climate movement.

Māori leader Mike Smith has shot the first arrow in a global war between indigenous communities and oil companies.

Smith has started legal proceedings in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Rainer Seele, the CEO of Austrian oil giant OMV.

He said oil company executives deserved to stand trial for genocide and other climate crimes impacting on indigenous communities now and in the future.

Mike Smith at OMV Headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Smith has started legal proceedings against the head of OMV, an international oil company operating in New Zealand.
Hinekaa Mako
Mike Smith at OMV Headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Smith has started legal proceedings against the head of OMV, an international oil company operating in New Zealand.

"We're in a climate emergency. We've got to pull out all the stops against the fossil fuel companies.

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"They choose to put profit ahead of millions of people all over the world who will suffer the effects of climate change. It's a crime of global proportions. I know it sounds dramatic but that's because it is. We need to hold these people to account."

Smith is currently in Vienna, Austria where the OMV headquarters is based. He held a media conference outside their offices to announce the legal challenge.

The oil company is the last international giant still operating in New Zealand. OMV NZ owns the majority share in the country's largest producing oil field off the south coast of Taranaki. It also operates two other fields and holds exploratory licences.

The government stopped offering new oil exploration permits in April last year. Smith wants OMV to cease operating in New Zealand.

Drilling rig Kan Tan IV at Admiralty Bay, off the Taranaki coast on its way to the Maari oil field owned by Austrian company OMV.
supplied
Drilling rig Kan Tan IV at Admiralty Bay, off the Taranaki coast on its way to the Maari oil field owned by Austrian company OMV.

"We managed to chase out all the rest of them and turn the government around so we're not taking anymore permits," Smith said.

"Once we get rid of this lot then we become an exemplar to the rest of the world."

In July, Smith filed proceedings in the High Court against the Government for failing to protect Māori from climate change.

Smith recently travelled to Mexico where he met with indigenous leaders from central and southern American tribes and First Nations people in Canada. He also attended the United Nations Indigenous Caucus earlier this year.

The indigenous groups would join Smith in starting legal proceedings against a number of oil bosses in the ICC based in The Hague, Netherlands.

"We're expecting these companies to play dirty," Smith said.

Alison Cole is a war crimes investigator and international lawyer specialising in climate justice.
SUPPLIED
Alison Cole is a war crimes investigator and international lawyer specialising in climate justice.

Smith's lead counsel is human rights lawyer Alison Cole based in Wellington. She is also a UN war crimes investigator.

Smith's case was the start of a wave, Cole said. Other oil companies were now on notice.

"We're starting to wake up to the full ramifications of what climate change means for indigenous folks."

Cole said the informal litmus test for the ICC is whether a case reaches a threshold of shocking the conscious of humanity.

"When you're talking about climate change and the level it's reaching now and especially how it's impacting on Māori and indigenous communities around the world.

"If we look at it through the indigenous lens what we're experiencing with climate change absolutely meets that threshold."

The International Criminal Court is the only one of its kind. New Zealand and Austria are member states. The court tries individuals for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression. Cole says at the heart of many of the cases are environmental issues.

In a statement, OMV says it's heard about the possible criminal charge but can't go into detail because it hasn't been made available.

"We conduct our business responsibly and to the highest safety standards. Legal requirements are always met by OMV. 

OMV says it's making considerable efforts to reduce its own CO2 emissions.

"Since 2009, we have sustainably reduced these by 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. We're continuing to work on this. By 2025, we plan to reduce our CO2 intensity by 19%. In addition, we are strengthening natural gas in our portfolio, as it has a much better CO2 footprint."

Climate Minister James Shaw was asked for a response but was unable to comment because he was travelling.

 

A blue whale surfaces in the South Taranaki Bight in front of the Maari production platform.
Supplied
A blue whale surfaces in the South Taranaki Bight in front of the Maari production platform.

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