Guilty, Again and Again
Ecuadorian Appeals Court Ratifies Chevron Ruling
March 2, 2012 | Paul Paz y Miño
The Chevron case marked an important turning point yesterday when an Ecuadorian appeals court issued its final ruling, ratifying its historic $18 billion judgment against the oil company.
The ruling was the latest in a recent whirlwind of international legal news in the case, which is becoming a major test case to determine the boundaries between corporate investor rights, human rights and national sovereignty.
In a press conference Friday in Quito, indigenous leaders and plaintiffs' chief attorney Pablo Fajardo said that their legal team would soon initiate legal actions in several countries to attempt to seize Chevron's assets to pay the judgment.
"This is the moment to start acting to enforce the judgment against the company," said Luis Yanza, coordinator of the Assembly of People Affected by Chevron-Texaco. "It's time to do justice and it's time for the thousands of affected people to see it. It's time to attend to our most urgent needs, such as clean water and clean air."
Chevron has appealed the ruling to the country's National Court of Justice, but the company refused to post the multi-billion-dollar bond, as required by law, so the appeals court's ruling is fully enforceable while the appeal proceeds.
Despite its complete failure in Ecuadorian courts, Chevron keeps doubling down on its last hope: an arbitration tribunal convened under the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty.
On February 16th and 27th, the tribunal issued rapid-fire rulings making an astonishing grab for quasi-judicial power. The first of the two rulings ordered the Ecuadorian government – and all of its branches, including the judiciary – to prevent enforcement and recognition of the $18.2 billion judgment, both within and outside Ecuador. The second ruling laid out for the first time the full legal argument by which the tribunal was claiming authority to essentially veto the Ecuadorian ruling, and embark on a multi-year process of re-trying the entire case.
The Ecuadorian appeals court promptly swatted away the arbitration rulings. "A simple arbitral award...cannot force judges to infringe on the human rights of our citizens," said the court, adding that obeying the panel's order would violate the nation's Constitution as well as international human rights conventions.
International legal experts also expressed outrage at the arbitration panel's pretentions of turning itself into a sort of uber-world court with supreme global powers. Some of the statements by legal experts:
- The Andean Commission of Jurists' letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon
- Peruvian arbitration lawyer Jose Daniel Amado's letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon
- Five international law professors' letter to Renaud Sorieul, head of UNCITRAL
- Blog post by Ted Folkman, prominent international attorney lawyer, explaining the arbitration panel's misrepresentation of legal precedent to deny due process for the Ecuadorian rainforest communities.
Much is unclear about how the case will unfold, as Chevron throws its armies of attorneys around the world in desperate attempts to block justice. In the meantime, however, several things are undeniable:
- Never before has an arbitration panel been used in such an aggressive, expansive manner, with the clear intention of denying due process, denying legal redress and vetoing a judgment with profound implications for human rights and environmental protection. To call the arbitration tribunal a "corporate star chamber" is simple fact, not hyperbole.
- The case involves inherent conflicts of interest because each of the three tribunal members is likely to earn millions of dollars in fees by forcing this case to a full retrial and by blocking the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' rights of redress.
- The Ecuadorian rainforest communities are continuing their long fight for justice, with ever-more legal wind behind their backs. They are unified and optimistic, yet completely aware of the likelihood that Chevron's intransigent chief executives will keep fighting until the very end, no matter how much it eventually costs the company and its shareholders.