Global Human Rights and Environmental Communities Condemn the House Arrest of U.S. Human Rights Lawyer Steven Donziger
Prominent organizations call for Donziger's immediate release and warn of chilling effect on other human rights lawyers who stand up to corporate polluters
Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network
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Oakland, CA – On the 100th day of his home detention, several prominent human rights and environmental organizations released an open statement condemning the house arrest of U.S. human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, a key member of the legal team that won a historic $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron for deliberately discharging 16 billion gallons of toxic waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon from 1964 to 1992.
The coalition stated that the circumstances around the restriction of Donziger's freedom "gives the appearance that Steven Donziger has now been imprisoned in his own home for over 100 days due to his vigorous environmental and human rights advocacy against one of the most powerful corporations in the United States." Donziger is confined to a small apartment where he lives with his wife and son, unable to even step into the hallway without permission from a court officer.
Groups signing the statement in support of Donziger include Greenpeace USA, Amazon Watch, London-based Global Witness,The Civil Liberties Defense Center, EarthRights International, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), Rainforest Action Network, and others. Many of these organizations are allied as part of a new coalition called Protect the Protest created to combat "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" (SLAPP) designed by corporations to attack and harass activists, and together they have "combined expertise and collective power to protect the free speech of public interest advocates in the United States." That same coalition recently named Chevron "Corporate Bully of the Year" for its aggressive efforts to abuse the legal system to harass and intimidate its critics.
While operating in Ecuador as Texaco from 1964 to 1992, Chevron infamously dumped 16 billion gallons of toxic waste water into the Amazon rainforest as a cost-saving measure. It also abandoned roughly 1,000 unlined toxic waste pits that continue to contaminate groundwater and rivers, and spilled 17 million gallons of crude oil. Being the first oil company to drill in the Amazon, Chevron set a horrific precedent for the region and industry and its actions have caused an epidemic of cancer that have decimated indigenous peoples, according to evidence.
After years of litigation initiated by the affected communities with Donziger as one of their lead lawyers, Chevron was found liable based on 105 technical evidentiary reports. The company swore to never pay for a cleanup and also vowed to fight the case "until Hell freezes over" and then "fight it out on the ice." Chevron has since waged an unprecedented retaliatory attack against the people it harmed in the Amazon and their lawyers, using at least 60 law firms and 2,000 legal professionals and investigators to try to block enforcement of the judgment. A Chevron official in 2009 described a strategy to "demonize Donziger" rather than to litigate the case on the merits, resulting in the suspension of the lawyer's law license without a hearing and now his home detention.
The statement of the human rights and environmental groups explains as follows:
After Mr. Donziger refused to surrender his computer, cell phone, and passwords to the court for release to Chevron Corporation, his long-time adversary in a historic global environmental litigation and advocacy effort, the judge drafted "criminal contempt" charges against him. After public prosecutors expressly refused to act on the charges, the judge appointed a private attorney to prosecute charges anyway. Mr. Donziger is now being held under home detention. But Mr. Donziger has always explained the ethical reasons he felt he was unable to comply with the turn-over order, and has filed an appeal. He maintains that turning these devices and passwords over would destroy rights and privileges of the Ecuadorian communities affected by horrendous contamination for whom Mr. Donziger has fought for over 25 years.
"A human rights lawyer has been imprisoned in his own home for 100 days at the hands of the country's third largest corporation, and there has been very little attention to this chilling attack on his freedom," said Paul Paz y Miño of Amazon Watch. "Chevron has waged a baseless retaliatory attack on Steven Donziger to prevent him from continuing to work to force the oil company to clean up the toxic waste it admitted to dumping the first place. After bribing its key witness with $2 million and submitting false evidence, it obtained a guilty verdict in its RICO case. But when that didn't stop Donziger from advocating for justice, increasing the community support for this case, and moving forward with international enforcement of the Ecuadorian verdict, Chevron aimed to personally destroy Donziger. It's outrageous and makes a mockery of our entire judicial system when a federal judge unilaterally acts to punish a human rights lawyer who is lawfully appealing decisions in an effort to protect his rights and the rights of allies to continue working to bring one of the world's worst corporate environmental criminals to justice."
"It is long past due for greedy multinational corporations like Chevron to realize that when they come after one of us, they come after all of us." Lauren Regan, a lawyer and the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Oregon, an organization that defends the constitutional rights of activists. "We all need safe drinking water and a livable planet to survive. What unites us as humans is far more important than billions of dollars in shareholder profits that go to the very few."
Simon Taylor of Global Witness added, "Given the United States' pre-eminent role to date in the global fight against corruption, I am profoundly shocked by the effort to criminalize Steven Donziger through what, in the absence of a better explanation and given the evidence in the public domain, I find impossible not to consider as acts of retribution. Having committed no crime, Steven is now paying the price for having had the cheek to actually hold Chevron accountable for the toxic wasteland it left behind in Ecuador, poisoning thousands of Amazonian inhabitants."
"It is beyond outrageous that Chevron, already found guilty and ordered to pay billions of dollars, has yet to be held accountable for its crimes in the Amazon, while longtime environmental and human rights advocate Steven Donziger has been imprisoned in his home for over 100 days now by a fanatical judge with a known bias for Chevron's corporate interests," said Ginger Cassady with Rainforest Action Network. "The continued, arbitrary detention of Mr. Donziger sets a very dangerous precedent that violates the core concepts of justice and freedom in the United States judicial system."
Read the full statement below:
Statement Opposing Home Detention of Human Rights Attorney Steven Donziger
November 14th, 2019
We are alarmed and dismayed that a U.S. federal judge has taken extreme and virtually unprecedented steps to restrict the freedom of human rights and environmental defender, Steven Donziger. After Mr. Donziger refused to surrender his computer, cell phone, and passwords to the court for release to Chevron Corporation, his long-time adversary in a historic global environmental litigation and advocacy effort, the judge drafted "criminal contempt" charges against him. After public prosecutors expressly refused to act on the charges, the judge appointed a private attorney to prosecute charges anyway. Mr. Donziger is now being held under home detention. But Mr. Donziger has always explained the ethical reasons he felt he was unable to comply with the turn-over order, and has filed an appeal. He maintains that turning these devices and passwords over would destroy rights and privileges of the Ecuadorian communities affected by horrendous contamination for whom Mr. Donziger has fought for over 25 years.
The basis for confining Mr. Donziger to his New York apartment pending his appeal is that he is supposedly a "flight risk." The Steven Donziger we know has never run from a challenge. He has stuck with his Ecuadorian clients for over 25 years, including through nearly a decade of brutal litigation and personal media attacks. In addition, he has a wife and son in New York, has relinquished his passport, and this week a coalition of 29 distinguished advocates and other individuals offered to co-sign an $800,000 bond on his behalf.
The lack of any reasonable flight risk justification gives the appearance that Steven Donziger has now been imprisoned in his own home for over 100 days due to his vigorous environmental and human rights advocacy against one of the most powerful corporations in the United States. This has serious implications beyond our concerns about Mr. Donziger's rights. It can also send a chilling effect to other lawyers who stand up to bad corporate actors.
With all that is at stake, we urge in the strongest possible terms that Mr. Donziger be allowed his freedom until the resolution of his contempt charges through the appeals process.
The Civil Liberties Defense Center
International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)
National Lawyers Guild
Rainforest Action Network