Donziger Speaks to European Parliament About Chevron Human Rights Violations in Ecuador

Brussels, Belgium – U.S. human rights lawyer Steven Donziger addressed the human rights subcommittee of the European Parliament today, strongly criticizing Chevron for refusing to pay a historic $9.5 billion environmental liability it owes to Indigenous peoples and farmer communities in Ecuador. 

“The facts as found by multiple courts are disturbing,” said Donziger, who has fought Chevron on behalf of Amazon communities for more than two decades.  “Chevron and Texaco for almost 50 years have systematically and deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil waste onto the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples, decimating their cultures and killing scores of people from cancer.  

“When it lost the legal case in its preferred forum of Ecuador, Chevron sold its assets and basically fled the country and snubbed its nose at the rule of law,” he added. “You can’t have one body of human rights law for governments and no real human rights accountability for private companies like Chevron who are causing a massive amount of harm and abuse.” 

Donziger was invited to comment on the European Parliament’s consideration of groundbreaking legislation that would impose mandatory human rights legal obligations on corporations for the first time. His written remarks are here. 

Donziger was part of the legal team that won the historic environmental judgment against Chevron in Ecuador in 2011. The case is the first time Indigenous peoples have vanquished a big oil company in court. Three appellate courts have confirmed Chevron deliberately dumped billions of gallons of oil waste in the Amazon, poisoning drinking water and food sources for thousands of people. 

After losing in court, Chevron threatened the plaintiffs with a “lifetime of litigation” and has used 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers to try to attack and demonize Donziger, who recently was put in home detention by a pro-business U.S. judge after he appealed an unprecedented order that he turn over his computer and mobile phone to the company. In what appears to be a case of corporate retaliation, Donziger has now spent 11 months in detention without trial on a charge with a maximum penalty of six months. 

 (See here and here for background on Chevron’s attacks on Donziger.) 

The judge who detained Donziger, former tobacco industry lawyer Lewis A. Kaplan, also appointed a private law firm to prosecute him in the name of the government after the U.S. Attorney refused the case. The firm, Seward & Kissel, disclosed seven months into the case that Chevron is actually a client -- a clear conflict of interest. 

Donziger’s legal team is now asking an appellate court to throw out the contempt case because of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. The lawyer has received support recently from 29 Nobel laureates and 475 lawyers and bar associations from around the world (see here) and celebrities such as Alec Baldwin and Roger Waters have rallied to his defense. 

In his talk to the European Parliament, Donziger called the order from Judge Kaplan to turn over his electronic devices to Chevron “a violation of the sacrosanct attorney-client privilege, a violation of various international human rights instruments, and an order that no lawyer I know of has ever heard of happening in the United States or in any country that adheres to the rule of law.” 

Donziger lauded the European Parliament for taking up the issue of how to apply human rights norms to the private sector. He recommended that lawyers and other human rights defenders be explicitly protected from corporate attacks. 

“You need to protect the protectors of those who protect the earth,” he said, referring to lawyers like himself who represent the claims of the world’s 400 million Indigenous peoples. 

“It is clear the entire post-war human rights order led in part by the United States has been abandoned, and actively undermined, by the current U.S. government,” he said.  “Europe is now the center of the post-war human rights world. As American human rights lawyers, we need your help and your leadership.” 

It is believed that no lawyer in U.S. history other than Donziger ever has been detained pre-trial on a criminal contempt charge. Kaplan repeatedly had made pro-Chevron comments from the bench and has been the subject of various motions for recusal over his bias. 

Prominent trial lawyer John Keker called the Kaplan proceeding against Donziger a “Dickensian farce” driven by the judge’s “implacable hostility” toward the lawyer. 

The Chairperson of the European Parliament Human Rights Committee, Maria Arena, thanked Mr. Donziger for appearing and said, “If companies are going to exploit natural resources, they must do it in a way that respects social rights, human rights, and environmental rights.” 

Donziger spoke via a video link.