Posts Tagged ‘judicial harassment’

EU law on corporate due diligence and SLAPPs: crucial and urgent matters

November 19, 2020

European Parliament is deciding its position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence should look like. Richard Gardiner (a Senior Campaigner for Corporate Accountability at Global Witness) on 2 September  2020 explains more and more recently (11 November 2020) a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups call on the EU to to protect journalists against gag lawsuits (SLAPPs)

As the European Parliament begins developing proposals for a new – and momentous – law to hold business to account for its impact on people and planet, Richard Gardiner sets out how this process came about and what needs to happen now to ensure this really delivers results.

Where are we now?

Following the publication of the European Commission study on due diligence requirements through the supply chain earlier this year, in April, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced to the European Parliament Responsible Business Conduct Working Group that he will introduce EU rules on corporate accountability and corporate due diligence in early 2021.

In response to this announcement, Members of the European Parliament are now starting work to develop a European Parliament position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence could look like. This work will take place within the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee and will be led by MEP Lara Wolters.

The goal of this work is to influence the final Commission legislative proposal and ensure that the Commissioner follows through on his commitment to present an ambitious framework for this law.

Potential to be a real game changer?

Global Witness has long advocated for mandatory corporate accountability rules to tackle corporate abuse against people and planet.

Our recently published report ‘Defending Tomorrow’ shows that while land and environmental defenders continue to act as the first line of defence against climate breakdown, far too many businesses, financiers and governments either fail to protect them or – in the worst examples – can be complicit in the violence they face.

These brave people play a vital role challenging companies operating recklessly, rampaging unhampered through virgin forests, protected wetlands, indigenous territories and biodiversity hotspots. They are on the frontline of our global, collective fight against climate change. However, despite their importance to the preservation of our planet, our report shows that 212 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2019 – the bloodiest on record, with the deadliest sectors for this violence being mining, agribusiness and logging.

Our findings show that an average of four land and environmental defenders are killed every week since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016. These are reinforced by our previous investigations on continued deforestation, minerals that fuel and fund conflict, and grand-scale corruption.

There is clearly a legislative gap when governments and citizens have no legal means to hold corporations accountable for their human rights and environmental abuses. As the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU is now looking to lead the global debate on corporate accountability and this new law will shape not only corporate behaviour within the EU but also globally.

What needs to be in this new law?

Civil society united in their calls for the EU to introduce legislation on corporate due diligence. We have consistently pointed to the fact that voluntary measures have proved to be vastly insufficient and new legislation is urgently needed to establish clear, robust and enforceable cross-sectoral requirements on all business enterprises, including financial institutions, to respect human rights and the environment.

As the European Parliament begins to discuss the details of corporate accountability legislation, Global Witness is part of a coalition of NGOs that has published its call to action for the key elements needed to hold businesses to account:

  • The new law must apply to all businesses, including finance, of all sizes and sectors acting in the EU.
  • Business must have a duty to address all the adverse human rights, environmental and governance impacts in their global supply chains.
  • Businesses must conduct Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) Due Diligence to identify, cease, prevent, mitigate, monitor and account for their adverse risks.
  • Businesses must engage and consult with all relevant stakeholders, including human rights defenders and indigenous peoples, as part of their RBC due diligence.
  • Businesses must be made liable for the human rights, environmental and governance adverse impacts in their global value chains.

You can read the full paper here.

So what happens next?

The months between now and the end of the year promise to be extremely interesting on the topic of corporate accountability across all the EU institutions. Firstly, the European Parliament will aim to finalise its advice to the Commission by end 2020 in order to ensure that it can be taken into account in the Commission proposal. Secondly, the Commission has draft plans to release a public consultation on the new due diligence legislation in Autumn 2020 to get public input on how to draft their proposal.

And finally, the German Presidency of the European Council have indicated that due diligence is a key political priority for their Presidency and they will aim to have Council conclusions on this topic by the end of the year. At Global Witness, we will continue to engage with all the European institutions to ensure that EU policy makers live up to their commitments to introduce a meaningful and impactful new law.

SLAPPs: More and more journalists and civil society organisations are being sued by powerful businessmen and politicians. The International Press Institute (IPI) has joined a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups calling on the EU to ensure those with a watchdog role are protected from gag lawsuits.

‘SLAPP’ stands for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. It’s a form of legal harassment designed to intimidate critical voices into silence. Expensive and unscrupulous law firms market this attack-dog service to powerful and wealthy individuals who can afford to drag on abusive proceedings for years just to shield themselves from unwanted public scrutiny. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/]

This scrutiny is the lifeblood of healthy democratic societies. The European Court of Human Rights and other national and regional courts have consistently and explicitly recognised in their judgments the important role a free press, and more broadly civil society, plays in holding the powerful to account. Their judgments reaffirm the obligation states have to create an environment that is conducive to free speech. Because without this, democracy weakens and dies.

The holes in our laws that allow powerful people to hammer their critics into submission are a hole in European democracy. Cases of abuse pepper the continent. Poland’s second-biggest daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, has received over 55 legal threats and lawsuits by a number of actors, including from Poland’s ruling party, since 2015.

French businessman Vincent Bolloré and companies affiliated with the Bollore Group have blanketed journalists and NGOs in libel suits to stop them covering his business interests in Africa. In Spain, meat producer Coren is demanding €1 million in damages from an environmental activist for criticising its waste management practices, having previously threatened activists and scientists who were researching nitrate levels in its local waters.

The people we depend on for information about what is happening around us are being distracted, impeded, or entirely blocked from pursuing their work by these costly and resource-intensive legal attacks. The situation is becoming skewed beyond recognition. When it comes to certain people, governments, companies and topics, it’s not writers, film makers or journalists who decide what we read, watch and talk about.

It’s not even the courts, for SLAPPs rarely make it to a hearing, let alone a court judgment. Rather, it’s the oligarchs and their associates in politics, through the lawyers they pay, who are shaping the narrative and preventing the truth from emerging.

We’ve seen a worrying pattern emerge in Europe of government officials or beneficiaries of large public contracts adopting the tactics of celebrities and oligarchs to shield themselves from the heightened level of scrutiny that their positions or financial links to government warrant. The fact that the threats are often cross-border ratchets up the costs for journalists and activists, who find themselves summoned to court far from home in Europe’s most expensive legal jurisdictions.

Awareness of this problem is growing. European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová has promised to ‘look into all possible options’ to counter the threat SLAPPs pose to European democracy. One promising solution lies in the institutions of the European Union, and it could help realter the balance between pursuers of SLAPPs and the public’s right to be informed of matters in the public interest.

EU-wide legislation should be adopted to protect people across the European Union from SLAPPs. This has to be a priority. As in other parts of the world, rules should be in place across the EU to allow SLAPP suits to be dismissed at an early stage of proceedings, to sanction SLAPP litigants for abusing the law and the courts, and to provide measures to allow victims to defend themselves.

When we consider the importance of public watchdogs such as investigative journalists, activists, and whistleblowers to the rule of law and the fight against corruption, the absence of safeguards is a threat not only to press freedom but to the proper functioning of Europe’s internal market and, increasingly, to Europe’s democratic life.

The reality is that for every journalist or activist threatened with violence in Europe, a hundred more are silenced discreetly by letters sent by law firms, perverting laws meant to protect the reputations of the innocent from attacks by the powerful.

SLAPPs are a far less barbaric means of silencing someone than a car bomb or a bullet to the head, but their silencing effect is often just as destructive.

Signatories

Andorra should drop charges against woman human rights defender Vanessa Mendoza

November 16, 2020

It is not often that Andorra figures in this blog but on 6 November 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) refers to the case of Vanessa Mendoza, the president of Associació Stop Violències, who demands that all women in Andorra are able to enjoy their rights to sexual and reproductive health, in particular the decriminalisation of abortion. Due to her advocacy including with the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), she is facing intimidation, judicial harassment and defamation.

Vanessa Mendoza, President of Associació Stop Violències, is facing at least two judicial proceedings related to her activism. In one case where she received formal notification, she is facing charges of slander against the government, defamation against the co-princes and crimes against the State institutions due to statements she made to the media and her engagement with CEDAW. These charges carry up to four years imprisonment. In a separate case in relation to organising a protest in September 2019 calling for decriminalising abortion, she was brought before the police to testify in November 2019, but has not yet received a formal notification of the charges she is facing

During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Andorra, which took place on 5 November 2020, the State delegation of Andorra said that Mendoza ‘is not risking in any case a jail sentence’. ISHR urges Andorra to drop all charges against Mendoza, provide assurances that she will no longer face any intimidation, threats or judicial harassment, and guarantee her right to an effective remedy for the reprisals that she was subjected to.

ISHR welcomes the Netherlands’ statement at the UPR raising concerns about the reprisals against Mendoza for her engagement with CEDAW, and recommending that the Andorran government ‘stop the judicial harassment, the reprisals and intimidation against human rights defenders in relation to the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms and engagement with the UN’.

The UN Secretary-General, in his 2020 annual report on reprisals, documented that the Andorra Government is taking ‘disproportionate measures’ against Stop Violències and its President for their participation with the CEDAW.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/andorra-drop-charges-against-vanessa-mendoza-and-guarantee-safe-and-enabling-environment-women

Dunja Mijatović calls on Russia to end judicial harassment of human rights defenders

October 1, 2020

Yuri Dmitriev

Yuri Dmitriev

On 30 September 2020 the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg issued the following statement:

“Yesterday’s judgment against Yuri Dmitriev, a Russian historian and human rights defender, sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment in a high-security prison having been acquitted earlier on the same charges, raises serious doubts as to the credibility of his prosecution”, says today Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/24/gulag-historian-yury-dmitriyev-returns-to-prison/]

Mr Dmitriev is widely known in Russia and beyond for his research and his work focusing on the commemoration of victims of past political repression. The harsh verdict delivered by the Karelian Supreme Court in the absence of the legal counsel chosen by Mr Dmitriev cannot be deemed to have complied with fair trial guarantees and is a further illustration of a broader pattern of judicial harassment against human rights defenders, journalists and other independent or critical voices, which has been growing in the Russian Federation in recent years.

Once again I urge the Russian authorities to reverse this alarming trend of targeting Russian civil society. As a matter of urgency the criminal prosecution of a number of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists, including those of Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev, Yulia Tsvetkova, Anastasia Shevchenko [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/22/in-russia-first-criminal-case-under-undesirable-organizations-law/%5Dand Semyen Simonov for engaging in legitimate civil society activities, must stop. As a Council of Europe member state, Russia should also adopt structural measures at the political, legislative and practical level which genuinely create a safe and enabling environment for the work of human rights defenders, as required by European human rights standards. Instead of intimidating and harassing civil society, the Russian authorities at all levels should effectively co-operate with them and publicly acknowledge their essential role and invaluable contribution to society’s democratic development.”


 Commissioner website

Steven Donziger speaks out himself about being targetted by Chevron

August 17, 2020

In the Pozo Aguarico region of Ecuador, lawyer Maria Cecilia Herrera shows the oil pollution that remains in the ground 30 years after oil production ceased. Photograph by Enrico Aviles, 2020.

In the Pozo Aguarico region of Ecuador, lawyer Maria Cecilia Herrera shows the oil pollution that remains in the ground 30 years after oil production ceased. Photograph by Enrico Aviles, 2020.

After recalling the work and death of his friend Rosan Steve relates how the culprit, the oil giant Chevron, has been pursuing a scorched-earth campaign to avoid paying for the cleanup or helping any of the victims. In the process, Chevron and its main law firm – Gibson Dunn – has pioneered a new, highly unethical form of lawfare intended to intimidate environmental defenders in all 180 countries where it operates. I should know; I’m the main target of Chevron’s lawfare, which has involved 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers.

Here’s some of the backstory. Multiple courts have found that from the late 1960s to 1992, Texaco deliberately dumped billions of gallons of cancer-causing oil waste across 1,500 square miles of previously pristine rainforest, poisoning groundwater and rivers residents depended on for drinking, bathing, and fishing. Texaco, which was later acquired by Chevron, told local Indigenous peoples that the toxic waste was actually good for them, saying it would “nourish the brain and retard aging.”

In 1993, a coalition of 30,000 Indigenous peoples and rural communities fought back. The father of one of my Harvard Law School classmates asked me to join the team of Ecuadorian and American lawyers representing them. After hearing from leaders like Rosa and seeing the damage with my own eyes, I was appalled by what Texaco had done to these communities. Unlike BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, this disaster was no accident. It was done by design to externalize production costs onto some of the most vulnerable communities on the planet—the very people whose historical role is to act as the guardians of the forest.

After years of fighting in courts in the U.S., Ecuador, and Canada, the coalition won an unprecedented $9.5B in damages. Several appellate courts and a total of 17 appellate judges affirmed the case unanimously, and Canada’s Supreme Court ruled the Ecuadorians had the right to enforce their judgment. Human-rights champions hailed the victory as the beginning of a new era of environmental accountability.

But then Chevron unveiled another component of its strategy to try to prevent the Indigenous plaintiffs from receiving a cent. The central feature was filing a civil RICO suit in U.S. federal court against me as well as all 47 Ecuadorian community leaders who signed the lawsuit, claiming that the entire case on which I had spent 18 years of my life had been nothing more than a “racketeering” conspiracy designed to “extort” money from the company. Judge Lewis Kaplan denied us a jury, refused to review any of the voluminous scientific proof of Chevron’s pollution, and then ruled in Chevron’s favor. He based his decision almost completely on the testimony of a man who later admitted to lying repeatedly under oath and to receiving huge payments from the company.

I continue to challenge Kaplan’s flawed decision, which has been rejected by multiple appellate courts in Ecuador and Canada. But largely because I would not turn over my computer and cell phone to Chevron (an order that many experts believe to be a violation of attorney-client privilege and one that I have appealed), Kaplan tried to prosecute me criminally for contempt. His charges were rejected by the federal prosecutor. Kaplan then took the extraordinarily rare step of appointing a private law firm, Seward & Kissel, to prosecute and detain me in the name of the government. Seward & Kissel later admitted that Chevron is actually a client of the law firm.

While I await my day in court, I’m now under house arrest. (I believe I’m the only lawyer in U.S. history detained pretrial on a contempt charge.) I’ve been confined to my small apartment for 12 months on a charge that carries a maximum of six months’ imprisonment. This has been incredibly hard on my 14-year old son as well as my clients, who have been denied their lawyer. Chevron clearly wants me confined so I can no longer work on the case or speak publicly about the company’s gross wrongdoing.

One thing that keeps me going is the fact that hundreds of top human-rights lawyers and dozens of Nobel Laureates have sprung to my defense. They see this abuse of power as the latest example of corporations trying to criminalize environmental activism. They know the use of corporate lawfare to target activists has been copied by a mining company in South Africa, a pipeline company in the U.S., and a logging company in Canada.

Two weeks ago, two retired U.S. federal judges provided a big boost. The Hon. Nancy Gertner (Harvard Law School) and the Hon. Mark Bennett (Drake University Law School) criticized their former colleague Kaplan in the news journal Law360 for the way he’s handled this case. I’m grateful for their courage, because it’s extremely rare for federal judges to call out colleagues publicly.

Please vote with your wheels and fill up your tank anywhere but Chevron. And I hope governments around the world will stand up to attempts to criminalize peaceful activism. They can start by refusing to do business with Chevron until the company learns to respect the rule of law and ceases its attacks on human rights defenders. We must not let this targeting of human rights defenders spread as quickly as the toxins that killed Rosa and the men, women, children whose names filled her notebook.

Steven Donziger

Steven Donziger is a human-rights advocate based in New York City. He can be followed on Twitter at @SDonziger. His legal defense fund is at www.donzigerdefense.com and Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía’s web site is makechevroncleanup.com

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/08/15/dont-let-big-oil-open-new-front-its-war-environmental-defenders

See also later: https://www.thenation.com/article/activism/a-new-justice-movement-emerges-to-defend-steven-donziger/

Steven Donziger: human rights defender now victim of judicial harassment

August 10, 2020

Steven Donziger, gestures during a press conference on March 19, 2014 in Quito, Ecuador.Rodrigo Buendia/Getty

Last September, I travelled from Western Canada to New York City to see the human rights lawyer Steven Donziger. Donziger cannot travel. He cannot even stroll the hallway of his Upper West Side apartment building on 104th Street without special court permission. He remains under house arrest, wearing an ankle bracelet. Eight years ago, Donziger and a team of Ecuadorian lawyers, on behalf of Indigenous and farmer plaintiffs, won the largest human rights and environmental court judgment in history, a $9.5-billion US verdict against the Chevron Corporation for massive oil pollution in Ecuador’s Amazon basin.

Following the trial, Chevron removed its assets from Ecuador, left the country, and has refused to pay. The company now claims the Ecuador verdict was achieved fraudulently, and produced a witness, who told a US court that he possessed knowledge of a bribe. Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in Chevron’s favour, halting collection of the pollution fine in the US and placing Donziger in electronic chains in his home.

The details in this case really matter, so here the story in full:

Crime and punishment

Donziger, born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1961, graduated from Harvard Law in 1991, and founded Project Due Process, offering legal services to Cuban refugees. In 1993, Ecuador’s Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía (FDA), representing 30,000 victims of Chevron’s pollution, heard about Donziger and asked him to help win compensation for their lost land, polluted water, and epidemics of cancer and birth defects in a region now known as the “Amazon Chernobyl.”

Donziger originally filed the claim in New York, but Chevron insisted the case be heard in Ecuador, where the trial began in 1993.

Evidence showed that between 1964 and 1992, Texaco (now Chevron) dumped 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and pits. Fifty-four judicial site inspections confirmed that the average Chevron waste pit in Ecuador contained 200 times the contamination allowed by US and world standards, including illegal levels of barium, cadmium, copper, mercury, lead, and other metals that can damage the immune and reproductive systems and cause cancer. According to Amazon Watch, by ignoring regulations, the company saved about $3 per barrel of oil, earning an extra $5 billion over 20 years.

In 2007, during the trial, Chevron stated that if the victims pursued the case, they faced a “lifetime of … litigation.” The plaintiffs persevered. Since the victims were dirt poor, Donziger and his team, with FDA support, devised an innovative solution to fund the case, offering investors a tiny portion of any eventual settlement.

In 2011, after an eight-year trial, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Two appeals courts and the nation’s Supreme Court, the Court of Cassation, confirmed the decision. Seventeen appellate judges ruled unanimously that Chevron was responsible for the contamination and owed Donziger’s clients $9.5 billion.

The lone witness

According to court documents, Chevron “refus(ed) to comply” with the judgment and began to make good on its threat for a “lifetime of litigation.” According to internal company memos, Chevron launched a retaliatory campaign to attack the victims, discredit Ecuador’s courts, and “demonize” Donziger.

Chevron hired one of the world’s most notorious law firms, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher—previously censured by England’s High Court of Justice for fabricating evidence. Judges in California, Montana, and New York have censured and fined Gibson Dunn for such misbehavior as witness tampering, obstruction, intimidation, and what one judge called “legal thuggery.”

Using US RICO statutes designed to prosecute organized crime syndicates, the firm filed a “racketeering” case against Donziger. Judge Kaplan at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York—a former tobacco company lawyer widely viewed as being friendly to large corporations—agreed to hear the peculiar case. Kaplan claimed the Ecuador trial “was not a bona fide litigation” and insulted the victims, calling them “so-called plaintiffs.” Gibson Dunn lawyer Randy Mastro called the Ecuador courts “a sham.”

Prominent trial lawyer John Keker, representing Donziger, claimed the Kaplan trial was pure intimidation and called the proceedings a “Dickensian farce” driven by Kaplan’s “implacable hostility” toward Donziger.

On the eve of the trial, Chevron dropped its financial claims, allowing Kaplan to dismiss the jury and decide the outcome himself. Then Chevron unveiled their star witness—Alberto Guerra, a disgraced former Ecuadorian judge removed from the bench for accepting bribes. In a Chicago hotel room, Chevron and Gibson Dunn lawyers rehearsed Guerra for 53 days.

In Kaplan’s court, Guerra claimed that Donziger had approved a “bribe” to an Ecuadorian judge and had written the final court ruling for the judge, allegedly transferred on a computer thumb drive. No corroborating evidence was ever offered. Guerra later admitted lying about these facts, and a forensic investigation of the Ecuadorian judge’s computer proved that Guerra had lied.

The entire story now appears fabricated. Donziger’s lawyers have attempted to locate Guerra and depose him, but the star witness has not yet been found.

“Chevron’s case,” said Donziger’s lawyer Andrew Frisch, “rested on the testimony of a witness who was paid over $1 million.” Frisch stated that Kaplan’s rulings “have been contradicted in whole or in part by 17 appellate judges in Ecuador and 10 in Canada, including unanimous decisions of the highest courts in both countries.”

Nevertheless, without a jury, Kaplan accepted Guerra’s testimony and found that Donziger had committed fraud. Finally, Kaplan ordered Donziger to turn over his computer and cellphone to Chevron. Since this order violated attorney-client confidentiality, Donziger refused until the court of appeals could decide the issue.

Kaplan charged Donziger with “criminal contempt” for refusing his order. However, the order and the contempt charge were so outrageous that the N.Y. prosecutor’s office refused to accept the case. Kaplan defied the state authorities and appointed a private law firm, Seward & Kissel—with commercial ties to Chevron—to act as prosecutor, which, in turn, ordered Donziger be placed under “pretrial home detention.”

Legal thuggery

An unnamed New York Second Circuit judge—presumed by Donziger and his lawyers to be Kaplan—filed a complaint against Donziger with the bar grievance committee in New York, which then suspended Donziger’s law license without a hearing. However, bar referee and former federal prosecutor John Horan called for a hearing and recommended the return of Donziger’s law license. “The extent of his pursuit by Chevron is so extravagant, and at this point so unnecessary and punitive,” Horan wrote, “he should be allowed to resume the practice of law.” Donziger responded that, “Any neutral judicial officer who looks objectively at the record almost always finds against Chevron and Kaplan. The tide is turning and the hard evidence about the extreme injustice in Kaplan’s court will be exposed.”

This case appears to be about bullying. Chevron is one of the wealthiest corporations in the world. The plaintiffs are poor, Indigenous, and campesino people with scarce access to money or lawyers. “Donziger came to our rescue,” says FDA president Luis Yanza. How big can high-stakes corporate bullying get? Donziger’s lawyers estimate the oil giant has spent over $2 billion on 2,000 lawyers, public relations teams, and private investigators.

At the dinner party at Donziger’s, I met supporters from around the world, from Amazon Watch and Global Witness, journalists, lawyers, and human rights advocates. “This case is not just about Steven’s fate,” said Simon Taylor, director of Global Witness in London. “I believe the injustice to him is intended to intimidate the rest of us, to chill the work of other environmental and corporate accountability advocates.”

American human rights attorneys Martin Garbus and Charles Nesson formed a support committee for Donziger with dozens of civil society leaders, including: Clive Stafford-Smith, founder of the prisoner-rights group Reprieve in London; Atossa Soltani and Leila Salazar, the founder and executive director of Amazon Watch; Lynne Twist, co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance working in the Amazon; renowned author John Perkins; and famed musician Roger Waters.

The tide may be turning for Donziger and the victims in Ecuador. In June 2019, Amnesty International asked the US Department of Justice to conduct a criminal investigation into Chevron’s and Gibson Dunn’s conduct, witness bribery, and fraud in the Ecuador pollution litigation

This past February, Prof. Ellen Yaroshefsky, director of the Monroe H. Freedman Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics at Hofstra University in New York, wrote that the Kaplan and Seward & Kissel prosecution of Donziger is flawed with conflicts of interest, financial ties to Chevron Corporation, and judicial bias.

In April, 29 Nobel laureates signed a letter stating, “(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…. Chevron and a pro-corporate judicial ally, US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, manufactured ‘contempt’ charges against Donziger. (Chevron’s) goal is to intimidate and disempower the victims of its pollution and a lawyer who has worked for decades on their behalf.”

A month later, more than 475 international lawyers, bar associations, and human rights advocates criticized Kaplan’s ruling for persecuting Donziger “based on false witness testimony provided by Chevron, personal animus, and… to protect Chevron from a valid foreign court judgment.” The letter, from the US National Lawyers Guild and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, urges an end to the pretrial house arrest of Donziger, noting “such arbitrary detention sets a dangerous precedent for human rights attorneys in the United States and around the world.”

On May 27, 2020, the Newground investment firm in Seattle, Wash., placed two proposals on Chevron’s 2020 proxy call, asking for governance reforms to bring its Ecuador issues to resolution, and prevent future human rights and pollution liabilities. The proposals were supported by actor Alec Baldwin, musician Roger Waters, and Nobel laureate Jody Williams.

On July 16, the European Parliament wrote to the US Congress asking the Congressional Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties to investigate Chevron’s treatment of Donziger, which the EU Parliament found “not consistent with what has traditionally been the strong support in the United States for the rule of law generally and for protection for human rights defenders in particular.”

Late at night, in the Donziger home, after the supporters had left, Donziger and his wife Laura sipped wine. “We’re not giving up,” Donziger said. “The only fraud in this case has been conducted by Chevron. Modern nations have comity relationships, formally respecting each other’s court decisions. We’re reviewing enforcement actions in Canada, Australia, and other jurisdictions. Chevron owes the money, and they can’t just run, hide, and fabricate stories to avoid paying. They’re persecuting me to try to change the public narrative, but they’re guilty. They committed the crime, they hurt people, they were proven responsible in a court of law that they chose, and they owe the money.”

…..As I write this, in mid-July, Donziger has been in home detention for 345 days, almost a year, longer than any lawyer in US history has ever served for a contempt charge.

How Did a Lawyer Who Took on Big Oil and Won End up Under House Arrest?

Absurd prosecution of the crew of the ship Iuventa continues in Italy

July 31, 2020

AI has started a campagiun to call on the Italian prosecutor to drop the absurd investigation against the crew of the rescue ship “Iuventa 10”. Despite having saved more than 14,000 lives, they are accused of “facilitating the irregular entry” of migrants into Italy, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. The criminalization of rescue at sea has hampered vital lifesaving activities in the Central Mediterranean, and it is part of a wider crackdown on acts of solidarity across Europe

Three years after the baseless criminal investigation began, the Iuventa 10 crew remain in limbo with the threat of long jail terms hanging over them,” said Maria Serrano, Amnesty campaigner on migration.

[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/

The criminalization of rescue at sea has hampered vital lifesaving activities in the Central Mediterranean, and it is part of a wider crackdown on acts of solidarity across Europe. Wrapped up with the fate of these ten men and women are the fates of hundreds of others and thousands of refugees and migrants they are helping.” .

We could no longer stand by and watch people disappearing in the Mediterranean mass grave. We chose to use our privilege to be eyewitnesses, reporters, and a safe harbour for thousands of people on the move,” said one of the Iuventa10

“It was, still is and will remain the task of all of to save human lives wherever possible, to offer protection to those who need it, to treat everyone with dignity and to fight with them for the world in which we want to live.”

Forensic Architecture reconstructionhttps://forensic-architecture.org/investigation/the-seizure-of-the-iuventa

BACKGROUND:

The Iuventa case is not an isolated one. Across Europe people standing in solidarity or assisting refugees and migrants have been threatened, smeared, intimidated, harassed and dragged through the courts simply for helping others. Authorities have misused and abused anti-smuggling laws to criminalize human rights defenders and punish solidarity.  https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/1828/2020/en/

Fewer rescue assets had led to an increase of the death rate in 2018 and 2019. Since 2016 more than 50,000 women, men and children have been intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya, where they are exposed to arbitrary detention, torture, extortion and rape.

The Iuventa case was the first judicial proceeding launched against a rescue NGO in Italy, following a smear campaign in which NGOs were stigmatized.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/italy-crew-of-rescue-ship-face-20-years-in-jail-on-third-anniversary-of-smuggling-investigation/

Defending Defenders: Challenging Malicious Lawsuits in Southeast Asia

June 8, 2020

SLAPPs on the increase

shutterstock_1049504825

The work of human rights defenders (HRDs) to expose harm by companies around the world has never been more important, but the space to do so is increasingly under threat as unscrupulous companies and governments around the world use the legal and judicial system to harass critics.

Logo

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are a powerful tool to silence by forcing defendants in a costly fight for their freedom of expression and their organisations’ existence. This year’s Corporate Legal Accountability Annual Briefing by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre provides an in-depth analysis of nine emblematic case studies from Southeast Asia, and outlines the legal framework in which these lawsuits are brought, including emerging anti-SLAPPs regulation. The briefing also examines the legal and other tactics companies have used to silence HRDs; and analyses the legal strategies that lawyers have employed to successfully defend against SLAPPs while highlighting the role that courts have played in the region in either allowing or dismissing SLAPPs.

Key Findings

  • SLAPPs take place in a broader context of judicial harassment. 40% of all attacks on business-related HRDs globally [2015-2019] were judicial harassment, with numbers growing at an annual rate of 48%.
  • Judicial harassment appears to be the tactic of choice deployed by businesses operating in Southeast Asia to punish or silence defenders. Nearly half (44 %) of all attacks against HRDs in South East Asia constitute judicial harassment.
  • We recorded 127 cases of judicial harassment against HRDs in Southeast Asia between 2015 and 2019, including at least 30 SLAPPs, making Southeast Asia one of the most dangerous regions in the world for HRDs facing such threats.
  • In order to effectively fight SLAPPs in Southeast Asia and globally, we need robust legal frameworks that prevent companies from filing SLAPPs in the first place and allow courts to identify, call out and dismiss them as soon as they are filed. To make this happen, governments, businesses and investors, alongside defenders and civil society (and the lawyers who defend them), need to act decisively for the protection of civic freedoms and human rights defenders.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/

Full Briefing

Being a Woman Human Rights Defender in Thailand is risky

February 10, 2020

Thai land rights activist Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, working in the fields in Ban Haeng village. Photo: Lam Le
Thai land rights activist Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, working in the fields in Ban Haeng village. Photo: Lam Le

Growing up, cassava farmer Nittaya Muangklang did not think she would ever become an activist – let alone that she would lead a group of land rights defenders in the first-ever bid to challenge Thailand’s government and its “take back the forests” policy at the Supreme Court. “We did encroach on the national park, but as poor farmers, we should be eligible for exemption,” said Muangklang, who is fighting eviction, imprisonment and fines. Faced with what farmers and rights groups perceive as increasing judicial harassment, more women living in rural areas have joined the fight for land rights in Thailand – amid the spectre of intimidation and the threat of jail time or even being killed for their activism. The appeal court last year sentenced Muangklang and 13 other land rights defenders from Ban Sap Wai village in Thailand’s northeast to up to four years in prison, and ordered them to pay fines of between 40,000 and 1.6 million baht (between US$1,300 and US$52,000) for encroaching on and damaging land in Sai Thong National Park. The court said the farmers failed to prove they had occupied the land before the park was established in 1992. Muangklang, out on bail since last August, said her family had not applied for a land certificate when they moved to Ban Sap Wai in 1986 because they never thought it necessary until the day they faced eviction.

..Thai NGOs estimate that at least 8,000 households have been threatened with eviction since 2015. Meanwhile, Thailand’s ruling junta has in the past five years given away around 999 hectares of forest conservation land as concessions to large corporations, including cement and mining companies, according to Land Watch Thai. Muangklang’s case caught the attention of United Nations special rapporteurs, who last August expressed their concern that Thailand was misusing the forest reclamation policy. In a letter to the government, the UN said Muangklang’s prosecution “appears to be a result of her work as a community leader”, and pointed out that the eviction of the Ban Sap Wai farmers might violate their human rights. The Thai government has yet to respond to the UN’s request to justify its prosecution of the farmers. Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment did not respond to This Week in Asia’s request for comment.

Being a female advocate for land rights in Thailand is a dangerous calling. In 2012, female activists Montha Chukaew and Pranee Boonnak were brutally killed. Since 2014, 225 female human rights defenders from Thailand’s rural areas have been subjected to judicial harassment, according to NGO Protection International, which estimates that 70 per cent of these activists are land rights defenders accused of encroaching on national parks and other lands. However, their work is often overlooked and underappreciated…Even when efforts are made to enshrine women’s rights, as is the case with gender equality in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a 17-section blueprint on achieving a sustainable future by 2030 – on-the-ground implementation when it comes to female land rights defenders tends to be lacking. “There’s a challenge there because many times states are not really connecting a human rights-based approach with [the SDGs’] development approach,” said Dubravka Simonovic, UN special rapporteur on violence against women. Thai human rights activist Matcha Phorn-in, who works with marginalised communities, agrees. “When the government is the key actor, [SDGs won’t work for] many people who oppose the government because of violations of human rights,” she said, explaining that this meant a lack of indicators and data to assess how female land rights defenders were being affected….On top of this, Phorn-in fears that millions of people could be affected, now that officials involved in the forest reclamation policy have search-and-destroy powers they can use without first needing court orders.

Protection International’s Somwong explained that with the labour involved in household and family-care duties, female activists were essentially “doing double work” while also facing the risk of sexual harassment. Consequently, rights groups have been calling for gender-sensitive support for these activists. “When you’re not protecting women, you’re not protecting the family, the community, or the movement,” Somwong said. Nine of the prosecuted Ban Sap Wai farmers are women.

…..

…Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, said it was her habit of questioning authority that led her to activism. She contended that the local authorities and the Kiew Lueng Company, which oversees the project, had not been transparent with local villagers on the environmental and economic impact of the mine. As a result, she and members of the conservation group have faced more than a dozen defamation lawsuits from the mining company as well as the local government. The project was put on hold in 2015 after the group counter-sued. The company got a mining permit in 2015 but has not been able to move forward since then due to the lawsuits. Jo has paid a steep price for her perseverance. She lost her job at the local school, another job as assistant to the village chief, and suffered two miscarriages due to the stress of activism, which also took its toll on her marriage and saw her divorce her husband. At 36, Jo’s main sources of income are farming and being an administrator of a Facebook group. But she has found a different family. Of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group’s 1,400 members, 70 per cent are women. …….

Early last year, Ban Haeng villagers received a note that the government was planning to annex the forest the community had been relying on as a source of livelihood, and turn it into a national park. The villagers have submitted a letter of objection, stating that people are living in the area. Jo is positive that no one will get evicted. Unlike the Ban Sap Wai case, she said, the people of Ban Haeng had clear proof of the village’s history – a namesake temple that dates back to 1851….

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3048456/thailands-female-land-rights-defenders-activism

Burundi elections start with convicting 4 journalists

February 5, 2020

Acquitted journalist Santosh Yadav about his ordeal in India

January 10, 2020

In a blog post by Kunal Majumder, CPJ India Correspondent on 8 January 2020, Indian freelance journalist Santosh Yadav says “I feel like a weight has been lifted’ as Chhattisgarh court ends four-year legal nightmare.

Freelance journalist Santosh Yadav, left, with human rights defender Shalini Gera and CPJ India Correspondent Kunal Majumder, during a convention on journalist safety in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, in February 2019. A court on January 2 acquitted Yadav of several charges, ending a four-year legal battle. (CPJ)

Freelance journalist Santosh Yadav, left, with human rights defender Shalini Gera and CPJ India Correspondent Kunal Majumder, during a convention on journalist safety in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, in February 2019 (CPJ)

On January 2, 2020 freelance journalist Santosh Yadav got his life back when the National Investigation Agency court in Jagdalpur acquitted him of charges of helping Maoists militants. The ruling marked the end of a legal nightmare that lasted over four years for Yadav, who says that he was threatened and beaten in custody, before being released on bail under restrictive conditions.

Yadav’s ordeal started in September 2015, when police in India’s Chhattisgarh state arrested him on accusations of aiding and abetting Maoist militants. The journalist’s colleagues and his lawyer, who spoke with CPJ at the time, said they believed the arrest was in connection to his reporting on alleged human rights abuses by police.

The journalist, who at the time was a contributor to the Hindi-language newspaper Navbharat in Bastar district, was charged with 28 counts including associating with a terrorist organization, supporting and aiding terrorist groups, taking part in a Maoist-led ambush against security forces, rioting with a deadly weapon, unlawful assembly, wrongful restraint, attempt to murder, public mischief and criminal conspiracy. He was held in pre-trial detention for one and a half years. Yadav told CPJ that during that time, police beat him regularly and threatened to have him killed. When he was released on bail, the court imposed several restrictive measures.

The day after the January 2 ruling that exonerated Yadav, the journalist spoke with CPJ about his struggle during the four years since his arrest. Here some excerpts from this interview :

Congratulations. So does this court ruling mean you are a free man?

Yes, all charges have been dropped. The judge said that I’m innocent and have been exonerated of all charges. He added that there is no evidence to prove the police charge that I’m a Maoist.

Prior to your 2015 arrest, had police contacted you about your reporting? Were there any signs or warning that police were unhappy with your journalism?

There were numerous incidents when local police officials would express displeasure over my reporting. I never thought it was anything serious. However, before my arrest, police started picking me up from my home at random hours, once at 3 a.m. They would threaten to arrest me, kill me. They even offered money in exchange for information on Maoists. They would keep me in lock-up the whole day and release me in the evening. I had a feeling that my life was at threat. I informed several journalists and human rights defenders including Malini Subramaniam [one of CPJ’s 2016 International Press Freedom Awardees], Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal that the police might arrest me.

……..
Previously, you told CPJ and other outlets that you were beaten and threatened even inside jail. Could you describe your time in prison?

I was beaten repeatedly, especially when I would go for bathing. I even started a protest fast, which several prisoners supported. The prison guards retaliated by beating us with batons. At that point, I didn’t know if I would live or die. After beating me mercilessly, I was stripped and put in solitary confinement for 11 days. Then they moved to me Kanker jail. [Kanker is 122 miles from Yadav’s hometown of Darbha.] Even there I was beaten up. The prison guards singled me out for my protests in the Jagdalpur jail and targeted me…

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