Posts Tagged ‘oil industry’

UN Special Rapporteur Léo Heller, under attack from industry, gets support from many NGOs

October 22, 2020

Over 100 civil society organizations (for the names, click the link at the end of the post) published a joint letter on 21 October 2020 to express their strong support for the ​report​ on “The Privatisation of Water and Sanitation Services” of the United Nations (U.N.) Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Mr. Léo Heller. He will present the report to the U.N. General Assembly today. They also express deep concern about the attempts by a group of private water operators to undermine the independence of the Special Rapporteur and his work. Programmes.

This new report is an important contribution to a debate that is crucial in current times. The role of private actors in the delivery of public services, including water and sanitation services, has been increasing in the last decades. In recent years, at least four other U.N. Special Procedures ( extreme poverty and human rights, education, housing, and debt) have written on this topic in their respective reports. Just this week, eight current and former U.N. Special Rapporteurs and independent experts met at a ​major event on privatisation​ gathering hundreds of people online, and five of them released an ​op-ed​ published worldwide on the importance of the issue of privatisation and human rights.
 
Mr. Heller’s report is balanced and acknowledges the diversity of context. His report is the result of his work over the last six years and, remarkably, it was prepared through ​several consultations that go far beyond what is expected or what is the usual practice under U.N. Special Procedures. The consultations included a wide range of stakeholders, including States and the private sector, and were transparently shared on the mandate’s ​website​.

Yet, despite the importance of this issue and the measured and constructive solutions offered, the Special Rapporteur has faced considerable pushback from Aquafed, a lobby group for private water companies such as Veolia and Suez​. We are aware that Aquafed wrote to the President of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and to States. These letters personalised the issue, questioning Mr. Heller’s impartiality and respect of the applicable rules. The concerns they raise are however unfounded; they aim at silencing and discrediting him, rather than debating substance.
 
This interference is a transparent and unacceptable attempt to protect the industry’s profits from exposure to the reality of the lived experience of far too many who have had their human rights violated under privatisation.
 
We would like to express our thorough support to Mr. Heller’s rigour and professionalism. Despite limited resources, he has consulted widely for this report, and for his previous reports. Throughout his six-year mandate, he paid attention to affected communities and families who do not enjoy the rights to water and sanitation. In strict adherence to the rules of conduct and the mandate of the Human Rights Council, he has conducted quality, evidence-based, thoughtful research. He has taken into consideration the views he received through consultations, but acted independently from States, the private sector, and other stakeholders, which is the pillar of the United Nations special procedures mechanism. ​There is no doubting his integrity, professionalism, or commitment to human rights.
 
The signatories would like to express our recognition for the work that the Special Rapporteur has undertaken in the last six years and in particular, we underline the importance of his work on privatisation. Mr. Heller makes recommendations for States, private actors and international financial institutions, which we believe merit due attention and action.  
 
We urge States, as duty-bearers, to continue placing their obligation to fulfill the human rights of all people above the financial interests of any private actor.

Sincerely,

Convening partners: Corporate Accountability Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Public Services International The Transnational Institute
 
https://www.tni.org/en/article/over-100-civil-society-organizations-stand-behind-un-special-rapporteur-leo-heller-denounce

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?

Environmental defenders in Alberta, Canada, be warned….oil will get you

July 9, 2019

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Press Progress blog of 3 July 2019 analyses the agressive tone of Alberta‘s Premier Jason Kenney, who talks of “war” on environmental defenders. Civil liberties groups and human rights organizations are warning that his new “war room” is an attempt to intimidate critics and put a chill on free expression rights in the province. Described as a “fully staffed, rapid response” unit mandated to respond to “all the lies” about the oil industry, the $30 million “war room” is part of Kenney’s so-called “fight back strategy” that aims to wage war against environmental groups. Kenney has also indicated he will launch a public inquiry into the activities of environmental groups like the David Suzuki Foundation, while Kenney’s energy minister has promised the government will assemble a team of lawyers to launch lawsuits against environmentalists.

“Talk of a war room, focused on targeting ‘offending’ environmentalists, seems determined to send a clear message,” Amnesty International Canada Executive Director Alex Neve told PressProgress. Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Fundamental Freedoms program, agrees the campaign’s stated mission could be “very problematic from a free expression perspective.”

Standing behind Kenney at the press conference was Vivian Krause, a self-described “researcher” who focuses on “the money behind environmental campaigns.” Krause’s research, which is often panned by her critics as a “conspiracy theory,” claims environmental groups funded by the Rockefeller Brothers are secretly working to cap oil production in Alberta.

Also sharing the stage with Krause and Kenney was Tim McMillan, President and CEO of the Canadian Association of Oil Producers (CAPP) as well as Sandip Lalli, President and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. Kenney was introduced at the press conference by Robbie Picard, an oil activist who has been involved with groups like Canada Action and Rally for Resources, but better known for creating the “I Love Oilsands” t-shirts. As Maclean’s notes, Picard is known to be “a bit too enthusiastic in his cheerleading” for the oil industry, as well — in a 2018 appearance on Rebel Media, Picard described environmentalists as “terrorists” who should face “six months in jail” for protesting the oil industry.

Jason Kenney’s ‘War Room’ is a Threat to Free Speech, Say Civil Liberties and Human Rights Groups

Towards Criminal Liability of Corporations for Human Rights Violations: The Lundin Case in Sweden

April 11, 2019

Last October, the Public Prosecution Authority of Sweden served Alex Schneiter and Ian H. Lundin, CEO and Chairman of Lundin Petroleum, with suspicion of aiding and abetting international crimes. Also, the company was informed of the prosecution’s intention to seek forfeiture of $400 million in criminally obtained benefits in case of a conviction. The suspects and their company have been given until June 15th to study the case files and to request for additional investigation. The trial is expected to open in the Autumn and may take a year in first instance.

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The case has the potential of becoming a landmark trial because of the novelty and complexity of the legal issues that the court will have to decide. In particular, with regard to the assessment of the individual criminal liability of the executives of Lundin, the determination of the applicable standards of proof, the question whether a lack of due diligence is sufficient for a finding of guilt, and the limits and overlap of individual criminal liability of corporate directors on the one hand and corporate criminal liability of organisations on the other. The Asser Institute intends to follow the trial closely, starting with the event  “Towards Criminal Liability of Corporations for Human Rights Violations: The Lundin Case in Sweden” on 23 May May 2019, when it will be hosting three subject experts to introduce the case itself, and to delve into the legal dimensions that are expected to make it a landmark war crimes case.

The meeting on 23 May starts at 16:00 at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut (R.J. Schimmelpennincklaan 20-22), The Hague. Netherlands.

The three speakers are:

  • Egbert Wesselink will provide an introduction to Sudan’s oil war, describe Lundin’s role in it, and examine the human rights responsibilities of the company and its shareholders.
  • Dr. Mark Taylor will discuss how the Lundin case sits in global developments regarding the criminal liability of corporations for human rights abuses in the context of conflicts.
  • Miriam Ingeson will give a Swedish perspective to the legal framework of the case and analyse the legal issues that it raises at the intersection between national and international law.
  • Moderator is Antoine Duval, Senior Researcher at the Asser Institute and the coördinator of the Doing Business Right project.

For some background material on the case and its wider context, see www.unpaiddebt.orgwww.lundinhistoryinsudan.com.

For full details, see https://www.ass…events/?id=3070<https://www.asser.nl/education-events/events/?id=3070> .