Tag Archives: Amazon Defense Coalition

Chevron’s Amazon Rainforest Pollution, human rights and investment tribunals

Indigenous rainforest communities from Ecuador who recently won an $18 billion judgment against Chevron for environmental damage have filed  a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights strongly criticizing Chevron’s “egregious misuse” of the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty (“BIT”) to violate human rights protections. They are seeking an order requiring Ecuador’s government to protect their right to life, physical integrity, health, a fair trial, and equal treatment under the law as guaranteed by the American Declaration of the Rights of Man and other international human rights treaties.

The petition was filed against Ecuador’s government because Chevron is seeking an order from the private investor arbitration panel mandating that the country’s President freeze the court proceedings until the BIT panel can rule, a process which normally takes three years. Such an order would violate Ecuadorian and international law as well as the human rights protections that the Commission is sworn to uphold, said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs in the underlying environmental case.

The Commission, located in Washington, D.C., hears claims for emergency relief from individual human rights victims and derives its authority from the the multilateral international treaty that created the Organization of American States, of which Ecuador and the United States are members. Any order from the Commission is binding on the government against which it is issued.

“The threats are serious and urgent,” the plaintiffs wrote in their petition, referring to their own plight living near extensive levels of toxic oil contamination in the Amazon rainforest for almost 50 years. An Ecuadorian court in 2011 found Chevron liable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon when it operated under the Texaco brand from 1964 to 1992, causing dramatically increased rates of cancer and decimating indigenous groups. See here and here.

“The idea that an arbitral panel would even contemplate ordering a sovereign state to violate its human rights obligations is repugnant not only to the substance of international human rights law but to the very core of the international legal order,” the petition added.  The petition also argues that the relief sought by Chevron extends well beyond the scope of the BIT in that it does not authorize private investor arbitration panels to act as a “transnational” appellate court that can override decisions in a public court system of a sovereign nation. The BIT is normally limited to allowing investors to seek monetary damages directly from a government if it feels it has been treated unfairly, a claim that Chevron makes but that the indigenous communities reject.

The Ecuadorians believe the investor arbitral panel convened by Chevron violates international law in that it bars the rainforest communities from appearing before it, does not publish its decisions, and does not inform the public about when and where it meets. Further, its three members — all practicing lawyers — suffer from a conflict of interest in that they each stand to reap millions of dollars in fees paid in part by Chevron simply by granting jurisdiction over the case when there is little if any basis to do so.

“What Chevron is trying to with this secret arbitration is utterly offensive to anybody who believes in the rule of law,” said Fajardo, whose clients initially filed the environmental lawsuit against Chevron in 1993 in U.S. federal court in New York before it was shifted to Ecuador at Chevron’s request.  “Chevron is trying to convince the private arbitral panel to override the decisions of a public court in a sovereign country where Chevron chose to litigate, even as Chevron continues to pursue appeals in that country making the same arguments it makes before the secret panel,” he added. “It’s just an outrageous abuse of judicial process.”  “Any decision by the panel granting Chevron’s requests would violate international law and certainly would not bind the indigenous communities who are not a party to the proceedings,” he added. “We also believe it will backfire against Chevron if the company carries through on its threats to try to block enforcement of the legitimate Ecuador judgment in courts around the world.”

Ecuador’s government has argued that the oil giant has no right to even file the claim under the BIT given that the treaty did not take effect until 1997, or five years after Chevron left the country.  Chevron’s latest maneuver prompted renowned Latin American jurist Jose Daniel Amado to send a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking for a review of what he called an “improper and illegal expansion of arbitral powers” by the panel.  The Amado letter gained immediate support from jurists around the world, who sent a separate letter backing Amado’s arguments to the U.N. official in charge of international arbitration, Renaud Souriel.

Excerpt, Ecuador Communities Target Chevron’s Secret Investor Arbitration in New Court Filing, Says Amazon Defense Coalition, PR Newswier, Feb. 10, 2012

Chevron’s Oil Spills in Amazon, destroying the paper trail

A new document reveals that Chevron officials ordered the destruction of key documents as part of a broad scheme to hide the extent of the company’s pollution in Ecuador’s Amazon, says Amazon Defense Coalition.  A company memorandum from Ecuador dated July 1972 ordered that all reports related to oil spills “are to be removed from the Field and Division offices and destroyed.” From 1964 to 1990, Chevron operated a large concession in Ecuador’s Amazon region that included an extensive network of pipelines, wells and separation stations.

Chevron operated in Ecuador under the Texaco brand. In February, an Ecuador court found Chevron liable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon, decimating indigenous groups and causing a spike in cancer rates. Damages in the case, which is under appeal in Ecuador, were set at $18 billion. The extent and environmental impact of the disaster dwarfs the size of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to experts.

The memo ordering the destruction of documents was written by R.C. Shields, at the time the director of production in Latin America for Texaco and Chairman of the company’s Ecuador subsidiary. The memo directs Chevron personnel to report only oil spills that are “major events” which are defined as those that “attract the attention of press and/or regulatory authorities.”  The directive also orders that no reports are to be kept on a “routine basis.”  The Shields memo emerged via discovery in U.S. federal court.

Texaco reportedly caused hundreds of oil spills in Ecuador, many of which were “remediated” by setting them on fire, according to the book Amazon Crude, which was published in 1989 and which documented Texaco’s substandard operational practices. The company also has admitted to pouring sludge from the waste pits along dirt roads.

The Shields memo ordering the destruction of documents infuriated members of the legal team representing 30,000 Amazon residents who are suing the oil giant.  This memo is a vivid illustration of the culture of deceit that characterizes Chevron’s destruction of Ecuador’s Amazon over a period of decades,” said Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer. “Deception remains the operating principle for Chevron in Ecuador even today as the company continues to flout its legal obligations to remediate toxic pollution that threatens thousands of innocent lives.”

Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians, said the memo was part of a “pattern of corrupt activities” by the company that include a fraudulent remediation in the 1990s, the fabrication of scientific evidence, attempted entrapment of a trial judge and threats to put judges in jail if they didn’t rule in the company’s favor.  “Chevron acted like the Mafia in Ecuador,” she added. “This repugnant memo is just a small piece of the company’s scheme to defraud Ecuador’s government and its people.”

Chevron’s Ecuador Fraud Highlighted In Memo Ordering Destruction of Documents Related to Contamination, Says Amazon Defense Coalition, PR NewsWire, Dec. 14, 2011