FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 30, 2021
Nizhoni Camille Begay, Water Protector Legal Collective, firstname.lastname@example.org
New York, NY – Today marks Day 787 of house arrest for human rights attorney Steven Donziger. Steven Donziger has been fighting Chevron for over twenty years for damages Chevron caused in the Ecuadorian Amazon to Indigenous and rural communities who call the Amazon home.
Tomorrow, October 1, Donziger will be sentenced in federal court after the presiding judge found Donziger “guilty” of misdemeanor contempt. No lawyer in the United States has ever been sentenced to prison for a criminal misdemeanor contempt charge. The longest sentence ever imposed against an attorney in New York for a misdemeanor contempt conviction is 90 days home detention. Donziger’s attorneys have asked for a sentence of “time served.”
In 2010, Donziger helped win a historic $9.5 billion judgment in favor of Indigenous and rural plaintiffs in Ecuador, affected by the oil pollution caused by Chevron. Since then, Chevron has spent $2 billion on lawyers, private investigators, and public relations consultants to retaliate against and demonize Donziger for his human rights advocacy weaponizing the law against him in SLAPP lawsuits such as the underlying RICO case that led to a misdemeanor contempt charge, where Chevron claimed the judgment in Ecuador was a “product of fraud”.
When Donziger refused to turn over privileged communications with his clients to Chevron in the underlying civil case, Judge Kaplan referred the case to a private prosecutor with ties to Chevron (after the US Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute for his failure to follow a court order), and Donziger was charged with criminal contempt. The supposed fraud has been unsubstantiated by a forensic report submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague and Chevron’s key witness in the case against Donziger has since retracted their statement. Nevertheless, Donziger has now endured over two years of house arrest.
To date, Chevron (with a net worth of over $196 billion) has paid nothing towards the $9.5 billion judgment. This money would go towards rebuilding the Land that was destroyed by Chevron’s (then Texaco) pollution in the Amazon in an effort to deal with all the harm caused.
“Chevron knows if the people of Ecuador, who’ve won this judgment, are able to collect it, the floodgates will open… what they did in Ecuador they’ve done in dozens of countries around the world.” Steven Donziger, VICE
In a letter submitted to Judge Preska in advance of Donziger’s sentencing hearing, Water Protector Legal Collective Legal Director and attorney, Natali Segovia, highlighted the importance of Donziger’s case to Indigenous Land Defenders and their supporters worldwide, and described the great risk that human rights defenders undertake as part of their work:
“In 2020, 331 human rights defenders were killed and 69% of those killed were working on Land, Indigenous Rights, and Environmental rights. In each of those places, the law has also been weaponized against them while corporations’ actions continue to lie in impunity.”
The decision that lies before the court will have an effect on Land Defenders and frontline attorneys working in environmental justice, human rights, and corporate accountability. Already, the prosecution of Donziger has created a chilling effect for those that would seek accountability from such corporations–but we will not be deterred in seeking accountability and justice.
The Water Protector Legal Collective has joined Donziger’s appellate team and stands ready to fight for justice. We ask that you stand with us and with Steven Donziger as we move forward in any legal battles yet to come.
The Water Protector Legal Collective was born out of the struggle to protect Water Protectors at Standing Rock – those that were criminalized for standing up at frontlines to defend the Sacred, to protect the Water, and the Earth. As an organization, we continue to protect those that fight for future generations, those that are on frontlines, and in Donziger’s case, on legal frontlines, fighting battles against extractive industry giants that place profits over people.
Yesterday, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion which was sent to the U.S. Government and filed with the federal court, found that the presiding judge, Judge Preska has not acted with impartiality under international human rights standards and the deprivation of Donziger’s liberty is “arbitrary” under international human rights standards. The Water Protector Legal Collective joins the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in demanding Steven Donziger be released immediately and compensated in accordance with international law. The house arrest Donziger has already endured is sufficient time served.
The mainstream media has vastly ignored and remained complicit in their silence against Chevron’s actions targeting Donziger. Their silence proves our stance imperative; the world is watching.
The desecration of sacred land isn’t new to Indigenous communities and is often, if not always, deeply personal. Water Protector Legal Collective Communications Coordinator, Nizhoni Begay, says, “My grandfather is from a silver mining town, Cerro de Pasco, Peru, that is now literally sinking and plagued by pollution. Children are born with lead poisoning. Lago Agrio, where the Chevron oil dumping occurred in Ecuador, is similar to Cerro de Pasco. Our Indigenous communities, our homes, deserve better.”
We continue to stand alongside Land Protectors who are fighting for our Earth, our only Home, and for future generations.
#FreeDonziger Sentencing Day Rally October 1, 8:30 am EST 500 Pearl St. NYC Federal Courthouse
As always, we appreciate your continued support of the Water Protector Legal Collective which enables us to continue doing this necessary work.