Chevron legal crusade against Steven Donziger is a miscarriage of justice

Several Democrats in Congress have asked Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice to intervene and rectify human rights lawyer Steven Donziger’s unprecedented and unjust imprisonment. 

Dongizer secured a historic $9.5 billion judgement against Chevron on behalf of thousands of indigenous Ecuadorians for its deliberate discharge of 16 billion gallons of toxic waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon and has since been targeted for reprisal by Chevron and its lawyers.

He began a six-month prison sentence in October after being subjected to an unprecedented private prosecution led by Chevron’s corporate lawyers, stemming from a discovery dispute.

 “It is abhorrent that a human rights defender like Steve Donziger sits in jail while corporate polluters like Chevron collect government subsidies. My constituents know how hard it is to hold corporations accountable for hazards they create in our own neighborhoods, and this injustice on the international stage is a tremendous setback for environmental justice,” said Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García. “The Department of Justice should heed the call of the United Nations and human rights advocates and immediately intervene to release Steve Donziger.”

“That an internationally respected human rights lawyer sits in prison right now while Chevron avoids billions in judgments for intentionally destroying the rainforest is an outrage that highlights just how critical our fight against corporate greed is to our future,” said Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. “Chevron is setting a dangerous precedent that other corporate polluters will follow to avoid responsibility for the devastation they cause, and the DOJ should intervene immediately to rectify this situation or risk endorsing it as a blueprint for turning victims and their lawyers into criminals.” 

“For decades, the fossil fuel industry has recklessly and knowingly polluted the air, water, and land of local communities and people who find themselves in the path of corporations seeking profit at the expense of human lives,” said Congressman Jamaal Bowman. “Steven Donziger, a respected human rights lawyer, who has bravely supported Indigenous communities bearing the brunt of environmental destruction, is now behind bars because a big oil attorney made it so. This cannot and must not stand. I’m proud to join Representatives Tlaib, Garcia, and others in righting this wrong and requesting that Attorney General Garland take immediate action to regain control of this case, ensure Donziger be treated humanely, and secure his release.”

The letter was sent on the eve of an appeal hearing in front of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and if Donziger’s conviction is affirmed, the case will endorse the right of a private law firm to prosecute an adverse party and human rights lawyer. 

The Donziger case has outraged the international legal community and a coalition of 56 Nobel Prize Laureates and organizations, including Amazon Watch, have issued statements condemning the biased proceedings and demanding his immediate release.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also issued a scathing opinion this September slamming the deprivation of Donziger’s liberty as a violation of international law and the trial against him as failing international fair trial standards. 

“President Biden attended the UN COP26 Climate Conference this month as his administration expands its commitment to addressing the climate crisis,” the lawmakers wrote. “The entire world is watching whether our actions will match our words.”

“Meanwhile, an esteemed U.S. human rights attorney is being unjustly imprisoned by our very own courts in violation of international law, not for some real harm he did, but for protecting his vulnerable clients and his ability to serve them from one of the most toxic companies the world has ever seen,” the lawmakers argue. “When the UN and international environmental and human rights communities repeatedly call for immediate action, the Biden administration must not remain silent.”

“The Biden administration can’t claim to believe in the importance of climate action, much less climate justice, if it is unwilling to defend the rights of frontline communities and their advocates holding the fossil fuel industry accountable,” said Paul Paz y Miño, associate director at Amazon Watch. “Steven Donziger was targeted by Chevron because he helped win a massive judgement on behalf of Indigenous peoples and Amazonian communities. The United Nations has demanded Biden secure Donziger’s release and investigate this trend of corporations using the U.S. judicial system to target and silence activists. It’s incredibly important that these nine Members of Congress are joining with the UN, the human rights community, and the people harmed by Chevron to demand justice.” 

García and many other cosigners of the letter previously rallied for Donziger’s release in front of the US Capitol. 

“Law is supposed to be a powerful tool for advancing justice, but for billions of people around the world, the law is broken, for sale—or as we see in this case, a threat to our freedom,” said New Jersey progressive activist Lisa McCormick, a longtime supporter of the human rights lawyer.

The full text of the letter and list of cosigners can be read here.

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