29 Nobel Laureates Condemn Chevron Pollution in Ecuador and Demand Freedom for Human Rights Lawyer Steven Donziger

Alec Baldwin, Roger Waters, and other activists join Nobel laureates in their demand that Chevron clean up its pollution, pay court-ordered compensation, and cease the persecution of Donziger, who has been under house arrest for 255 days

Contact: Ariel Boone at aboone@amazonwatch.org or +1.408.883.0235

New York – Today, 29 Nobel laureates released a joint statement and held a press conference calling for freedom for detained human rights defender Steven Donziger, joined by Alec Baldwin, Roger Waters and activists from around the world. They are demanding that Chevron Corporation "face justice" for its pollution in the Amazon, compensate the victims as ordered by Ecuadorian courts after an 8-year trial, and cease harassment of all advocates and community leaders who hold the company accountable.

The Nobel laureates begin their letter: "[We] support Steven Donziger and the Indigenous peoples and local communities in Ecuador in their decades-long work to achieve environmental justice over pollution caused by Chevron. We call for a judicial remedy for the legal attacks orchestrated by Chevron against Donziger and for the defamation of his character."

"Chevron and a pro-corporate judicial ally, US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, manufactured 'contempt' charges against [Donziger]," the Nobel laureates write. "Chevron's strategy is death by a thousand cuts through the manipulation of a legal system it has managed to stack in its favor. Its goal is to intimidate and disempower the victims of its pollution and a lawyer who has worked for decades on their behalf."

"Laureates from every discipline have signed this statement of support," 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams said today at the press conference. "Whether they are from medicine or physics or chemistry or literature, they have all signed because they believe in the rule of law, they believe in justice, and they believe that the people of Ecuador deserve the judgment be carried out, the $9.5 billion suit against Chevron should be paid."

Jody Williams continued: "[Chevron] decided that they must vilify Steven Donziger. They want to use all of the tactics they have been using with their judicial ally, US district judge Lewis A. Kaplan, they want to use all of the PR firms, all of the billions of dollars they have spent on harassing Steven Donziger and his family, to show environmentalists, to show activists all over the world that you cannot go up against corporations, you cannot defend what you believe to be true and right. Those of us who have signed this statement do not accept that. We do what we believe to be right for the greater good. Not for the good of a corporation."

Actor and producer Alec Baldwin said today: "Decades of trying to avoid prosecution, decades of exploiting its vast resources in court, and decades of ignoring the cries of its victims: in that sense, Chevron is the Harvey Weinstein of environmental degradation. Just like Weinstein, it's looking to evade justice. What is happening to Donziger is not only unfair, it's unprecedented. It is happening because Donziger won. That's why Chevron and Kaplan are trying to wear him down, to distract from the real priority here: tackling what needs to be done to do right by the Ecuadorian people. We need to bring this back to the center of the debate."

"Kaplan is bought and sold by the oil industry. What he's done to Donziger is not only unfair, it's unprecedented," Baldwin said. "They [Chevron] don't have a leg to stand on in terms of the case. All they have is to make Donziger the bad guy. We must defend Donzger at every turn because they are trying to nullify him with personal attacks."

"I have stood in [Steven Donziger's] shoes with those people and looked into their eyes when I visited Ecuador," said Roger Waters, founder of the classic progressive rock band Pink Floyd. "And so I feel an enormous emotional attachment to this issue. This cannot be swept under the rug interminably, which is what [Chevron is] constantly trying to do. Well, that rug is getting lumpy because of the people here and all the other hundreds of thousands of activists around the world."

During the course of Chevron's legal attacks, Donziger also had his law license suspended by the New York Bar without a hearing. After several human rights organizations joined Donziger's demand for a public appeal hearing, one was eventually granted. In a February 2020 report, John Horan, the officer presiding over Donziger's bar appeal proceedings recommended that Steven Donziger receive his law license back, stating: "My recommendation is that his interim suspension should be ended, and that he should be allowed to resume the practice of law." Horan's decision was the first time any authority in the U.S. has reviewed the actual allegations made against Donziger in Chevron's racketeering suit.

Roger Waters, who spoke as a character witness at the bar hearing, called Horan's report "brilliant." Waters said of Horan: "He crafted an opinion... that told Lewis Kaplan exactly who he was, and what he was."

Human rights lawyer Steven Donziger spoke out today from house arrest: "I have been in home confinement for almost nine months. This appears to be part of a new corporate playbook used to undermine successful corporate accountability and human rights advocates by using the law as a weapon of attack against the vulnerable, rather than as a shield to protect the vulnerable from abuse by the powerful.

"The way this is happening is deeply disturbing. In a normal criminal case in the federal system in the United States, a person is charged by a grand jury comprised of citizens and then prosecuted by professional lawyers in the U.S. Attorney's office who are obligated to adhere to high ethical standards. In this case, none of this has happened. Instead, a single judge charged me, handpicked a longtime colleague to be the judge, and also hand-selected a private law firm that has Chevron as a client to prosecute me after the professional U.S. Attorney's office refused the case.

"One final and critical point that often gets lost: the affected communities won the underlying environmental case after an eight-year trial in Chevron's preferred jurisdiction of Ecuador. That victory still stands and still poses enormous risk to Chevron. It was affirmed on appeal three times in Ecuador. It was affirmed in Canada unanimously by the country's Supreme Court for enforcement purposes. The highest courts in Ecuador and Canada have validated the case for enforcement purposes, as has the highest appellate court in New York. The Ecuadorian communities have a robust and capable international legal team exploring all options to enforce the judgment. The case is continuing and Chevron will, I believe, be forced to comply with its legal obligations to the people of Ecuador."

Paul Paz y Miño, Associate Director of Amazon Watch, added to the calls: "Amazon Watch has been working on this for almost twenty years, and I've been in the courtroom to witness what Kaplan inflicted on the very idea of justice. I have seen every single stage of the intimidation tactics, the lies, the bribery, the scams and unethical and illegal behavior by Chevron and their lawyers. It is a very palpable and incredible threat to the idea of corporate accountability and justice in the United States. At every turn, the indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon have been denied access to justice. And when they finally beat an international oil company in court, that company has spared no expense to ignore that ruling, cast itself as the victim, and attack the very people they poisoned and those who stand with them, like Steven Donziger."

Simon Taylor, co-founder of the international rights organization Global Witness, which works to end corruption and support human rights defenders, expressed extreme concern about the actions of Judge Kaplan: "This sheds shame on the Southern District of New York, and I find it quite shocking. There's something unjust at the core of the prosecution underway and it needs to be investigated. This needs to stop. We need to see an end to this so we can go back to the real subject, which is the plight of the people affected by the pollution in the forest."

"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 Steven, a long time environmental and human rights advocate, has been imprisoned in his home," said Ginger Cassady, Executive Director of Rainforest Action Network. "This continued arbitrary detention sets a very dangerous precedent that violates the core concepts of justice and freedom in the United States judicial system. Even amidst the current global crisis we are facing, this should be front-page news and should be denounced by anyone who cares about democracy and basic American freedoms."

For More Info:

  • Video of today's press conference

  • Statement by Nobel laureates and list of names

  • Video narrated by Alec Baldwin in support of Donziger

  • Call to action asking the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler to seek the immediate release of human rights lawyer Steven Donziger

  • Background memo on Steven Donziger's case (PDF)