Breaking: Donziger’s Appeal Denied, Must Report to Prison Wednesday | Amazon Watch
Amazon Watch

Breaking: Donziger’s Appeal Denied, Must Report to Prison Wednesday

Congress, international groups demand Chevron stop targeting activists and Attorney General Garland to release US human rights lawyer

October 26, 2021 | For Immediate Release


Amazon Watch

For more information, contact:

Valentina Stackl at vstackl@greenepace.org or +1.734.276.6260
Paul Paz y Miño at paz@amazonwatch.org or +1.510.773.4635

New York, NY – After an unprecedented 800+ days of home detention, human rights attorney Steven Donziger, who helped win the historic $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron for deliberate pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon for over two decades, was sentenced to six months in prison. Today, the day before the historic congressional hearing of major oil CEOs summoned to Washington DC to speak on decades of dissection and misinformation, Congressional representatives, the United Nations, and human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the Protect the Protest Task Force are demanding Donziger’s immediate release from home detention and that he not be subjected to any jail time.

Around the world, hundreds of human rights and environmental defenders are killed every year, and thousands are persecuted, criminalized, and silenced. While Donziger and many like him have been silenced by corporations, governments, and others in power, the Biden administration let the injustice against Donziger endure. As major fossil fuel CEOs take a stand to answer to their wrongdoings, the Biden administration has a clear opportunity to support the people that have stood up against decades of injustice driven by powerful corporations by putting an end to the prosecution of Steven Donziger and taking the necessary measures to ensure that corporations can no longer abuse the justice system to target and harass human rights defenders.

It is time for fossil fuel companies to stop lying to the people, spreading misinformation, silencing activists, and rewriting history by vilifying those who try to expose them.

This week, on behalf of its 1.5 million supporters nationwide, People For the American Way wrote a letter urging President Biden and Attorney General Garland to conduct a thorough review and take appropriate action concerning the ongoing legal case involving human rights lawyer Steven Donziger. Amnesty International USA also just released an Urgent Action, calling for Steven Donziger’s immediate and unconditional release.

Additionally, a 100-page report from ecological anthropologist Dr. Nan Greer will be made available during the event. The report examines Chevron’s record around the world and found 70 incidents of serious cases of abuse of both environment and local communities in 31 countries. The report further exposes how Chevron owes over $50 billion in judgments and settlement debts.

Background

Since losing the court case in Ecuador in 2011, Chevron — represented by hundreds of lawyers at the U.S. law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher — has attacked and tried to demonize Mr. Donziger and his clients. The company alleged misconduct by paying millions of dollars in cash and benefits to its star witness, Alberto Guerra, who later admitted that he lied under oath. Forensic evidence also showed that Guerra’s testimony and Chevron’s misconduct claims were entirely false.

A federal judge ordered Mr. Donziger to surrender privileged and confidential phone and computer records to Chevron. When Mr. Donziger refused to disclose this information and appealed the order, the judge retaliated by charging him with criminal contempt even as the appeal was still pending. When the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York refused to prosecute the alleged contempt, the judge appointed his own judge then ordered Donziger to be placed under home detention, where he has been held for over two years months, on misdemeanor charges that carry a 6-month maximum sentence. 

The judge also appointed his own private prosecution team, composed of lawyers from Seward & Kissel, a law firm with oil industry clients that represented Chevron. It has now been revealed, through disclosures ordered by a New York federal court, that this Chevron-linked law firm has billed taxpayers well over $1 million to prosecute Mr. Donziger on a petty misdemeanor after the charges were rejected by the U.S. Attorney. In contrast, courts pay lawyers who defend misdemeanor cases a maximum of $3,200.

The judge now faces a major misconduct complaint signed by 200 lawyers who allege he has abusively targeted Donziger for 10 years to help protect Chevron from having to pay the Ecuador judgment. Hundreds of other lawyers issued a letter of support for Mr. Donziger in which they critique the various violations of law carried out by Chevron’s lawyers and the judges presiding over the civil and criminal cases.

In late September, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued a detailed 15-page decision on the case of Mr. Donziger requesting the U.S. government release him immediately and provide for compensation based on multiple violations of international law, including the “arbitrary” deprivation of Mr. Donziger’s liberty and an “appalling” lack of impartiality by the judges. No Biden administration official has responded to the WGAD.

Statements

Steven Donziger, human rights lawyer stated, “I am grateful to the many people and organizations that have taken action in solidarity with me and the people of Ecuador affected by Chevron’s deliberate contamination. The deprivation of my freedom and the attacks from Chevron, its law firm Gibson Dunn, and two federal judges is a chilling example of what happens when the fossil fuel industry is held accountable for pollution. I believe the violations of my rights are a direct result of the successful work of the Ecuadorian communities and their lawyers in challenging Chevron’s deliberate toxic dumping in the Amazon. The affected communities continue to suffer from living in a poisoned ecosystem. The U.S. government can no longer turn a blind eye to their suffering, to Chevron’s legal violations, nor to the retaliatory attacks against me by hundreds of company lawyers. The Biden Administration must act; we cannot allow the United States of America to become another country that locks up its human rights lawyers.”

Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL) shared, “Environmental justice means holding polluters accountable to local communities, and that’s true from the streets of Chicago to the Amazon Rainforest. Steven Donziger fought to bring fossil fuel companies to justice for poisoning communities in Ecuador, and his imprisonment in our own country is an attack on fairness and accountability. The Department of Justice should heed the calls of the United Nations and human rights advocates and release him immediately.”

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) stated, “I’ve traveled to Ecuador and seen firsthand the terrible humanitarian and environmental devastation Chevron caused when they dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into Indigenous communities, poisoned children and families, and destroyed the Amazon. As a congressman, I’m ashamed this damage was done by a U.S. company. As an American, I am outraged by the unprecedented and unjust legal assault that environmental lawyer Steven Donziger is facing after he worked to expose Chevron’s corruption, greed, and lies. The executives at Chevron who polluted campesino communities, put lives at risk, and then dodged responsibility should be on trial—not Steve Donziger.”

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) shared, “One of the most urgent challenges we face as a planet is the fight against corporate power and greed. Left unchecked, corporations like Chevron will gleefully destroy the environment and our public health for profit. Indigenous Amazon communities won one of the most important class-action lawsuits ever, holding Chevron accountable for environmental devastation with nearly $10 billion in damages, and ever since Chevron has sought to use its money and power to illegitimately nullify this justice. I am proud to stand with my Congressional colleagues, human rights defenders, and Indigenous communities in calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the unprecedented and unjust legal assault on their attorney Steven Donziger and to fight back against runaway corporate power rigging our justice system.”

Lucy Lawless, actor and activist shared, “This week I went to see the ‘Amazon Chernobyl’. I went to see the truth of things on the ground, to see the people whom Chevron accuses of being Steven Donziger‘s ‘co-conspirators’ in a sophisticated fraud against the multinational oil company. And what I found was farmers with contaminated land, children with lymphatic cancer and birth defects, women who suffer spontaneous abortions and uterine cancers. The reason these people and Donziger won their case (in two countries!) is that the facts were on their side.”

Natali Segovia, Steven Donziger’s lawyer, and attorney with Water Protector Legal Collective stated, “During the sentencing hearing—after ignoring the opinion by international jurists from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that called for Donziger’s release—Judge Preska stated that the United States is a country that respects the rule of law. Yet, what we’ve seen in this case is exactly the opposite. This is the weaponization of the law against a human rights attorney that has worked for over twenty years to hold Chevron accountable for the damage it caused in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Around the world, human rights defenders working on environmental and Indigenous rights often do so at great personal risk. The rulings, in this case, confirm what those fighting for clean water, corporate accountability, and the Earth already know to be true—the US is not safe for human rights defenders either.”

Paul Paz y Miño, Associate Director, Amazon Watch shared, “It’s not the slightest bit surprising that a company like Chevron, one that would admit to deliberately poisoning the drinking water of tens of thousands of people in the Amazon over the course of decades, would lie, cheat, bribe or use any of the dirty tactics it has in its vendetta to ‘demonize Donziger’ as a distraction from its crimes. It’s not even shocking that ‘fossil fuel mob lawyer’ firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher would bribe witnesses and falsify evidence as part of its self-proclaimed ‘kill step’ strategy to try to nullify the Ecuadorian judgment. What is impossible to accept, however, is how in the face of the most obvious and flagrant corruption of the U.S. judicial system to assist an admitted gross polluter, the Biden administration can allow the violation of the rights of human rights and environmental advocates like Donziger. We are in the midst of an existential battle with the fossil fuel industry and if Chevron is allowed to get away with what it has done to Steven Donziger, without the U.S. government lifting a finger to help him or the people it poisoned, then we can not consider Biden an ally to the climate movement. He has to choose a side and it has to be on the side of those that defend human rights. He must choose justice for the people of Ecuador. Today.”

Graham Clumpner, Protect the Protest Task Force Coordinator and Actions Coordinator Mosquito Fleet shared:

“This case is demonstrative of the global trend of silencing activists around the globe through Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). These bullying tactics are used by corporations to silence people like you and me from speaking out about important issues.

“This database from Protect the Protest task force member, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, paints a terrifying picture of the widespread use of this tactic. Though Donziger’s case is uniquely horrific, he is unfortunately not alone in being targeted for his human rights work.

“When Donziger and the Ecuadorian Indigenous communities took to the courts all those years ago, they went to seek justice after Chevron deliberately polluted the Ecuadorian Amazon by dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil-drilling water into the environment. Courts are for those who seek justice, not revenge.”

Dr. Nan Greer, Environmental Anthropologist, Author of Chevron’s Global Destruction Report shared, “I examined Chevron’s record around the world and found 70 incidents of serious cases of abuse of both environment and local communities in 31 countries (17% of Chevron’s global operations). Chevron had over 50.5B dollars in lawsuit judgments and settlements pending payment, 65% of cases involved documented claims of severe human rights abuses, such as forced labor and violence against women, including genocide. For example, Nigerians reported having to eat “oil- fish” if they were lucky to find any to eat. Kazahk’s reported their children were poisoned and left with brain disease from petrochemicals, as have Ecuadorian Indigenous people, villagers from Xiaoyang of Chuandongbei, China, and many others around the world. Mobile and Paramilitary police have been used in rural Indigenous areas so marginalized, the world has not heard. Even today this is happening in Canada.

“I found Chevron acts with impunity as if it cannot be harmed by any domestic and international laws country by country. The use of oil and gas is unnecessary, inhumane, and destroying our earth, that upon which we all depend. Companies such as Chevron, will not stop polluting this earth, violating the rights of people all around the globe, and leaving our earth in a critical tipping point destroying climate stability – as its financial interest in doing so is simply too strong. We must stop these companies from producing oil and gas, and we must stop their attack on those of us who report on their abuses, such as Steven Donziger – now over 2 years in house arrest for adhering to professional ethics, representing 30,000 Indigenous in Ecuador who demand Chevron clean up its mess and pay for damages.”

Aaron Regunberg, Law Students for Climate Accountability stated, “For law students across the country, these corrupt tactics are just as motivating as they are intimidating. Chevron and Gibson Dunn wanted to make an example of Steven Donziger, so that when the next Amazon Chernobyl hits, advocates would think twice before following in his footsteps. But by elevating a model for aspiring lawyers like us to emulate, they may have done just the opposite — they may have inspired a generation of future Donzigers to help build a movement so powerful, they can’t possibly silence us all.”

Amy Fischer, Americas Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA stated, “U.S. authorities must immediately free Steven Donziger. We are alarmed to see the increased targeting and harassment of human rights defenders through the US criminal justice system. In advance of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s hearing on Exposing Big Oil’s Disinformation Campaign to Prevent Climate Action, Amnesty USA calls upon US authorities to prioritize human rights over corporate greed and end the arbitrary detention of Steven Donziger. The Department of Justice can put an end to this injustice by taking control of the case away from a private prosecutor and ensure Steven Donziger is immediately released. Anything less would send a clear message to corporations around the world that they can continue intimidating human rights defenders without any consequence.”

Monica Palacios, Ecuador Assemblymember for the U.S. and Canada stated, “As an elected member of Ecuador’s National Assembly representing the Ecuadorian migrant community in North America, I am extremely disturbed to see the baseless attacks by Chevron and the U.S. court system on a distinguished human rights lawyer who has fought for years to obtain justice for Indigenous peoples and farmer communities in my country’s Amazon. We consider the attacks by Chevron and its judicial allies on Steven to also be attacks on the people of Ecuador who have held Chevron accountable for its massive pollution. It is just shocking to us as Ecuadorians that a private prosecutor from a Chevron law firm can deprive Steven of his liberty. We call on the U.S. government to immediately release Steven in conformity with the recent decision by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.”

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