Defense Minister Cancels Appearance before Legislators
Amazon Defense Coalition
7 December 2005 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Quito, Ecuador - The United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders has sent a letter to Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting details of the investigation into the death threats and kidnap attempts against lawyers and leaders of a landmark environmental lawsuit against Chevron.
Hina Jilani said she would inform the UN's Human Rights Commission of the case and therefore needed the information directly from the Ecuadorian government. In her letter, Ms. Jilani asked for the details of all official probes into the harassment. She also requested information about any measures to protect the threatened individuals and of the investigation and punishment of those responsible for the intimidation.
The UN's intervention is the latest development in the groundbreaking class-action lawsuit brought by 30,000 residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon against Chevron (formerly Texaco). The plaintiffs allege that the US oil giant dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest, from 1972 to 1990, as it drilled in the region.
The dumping, designed to save Texaco $3 a barrel, was a deliberate flouting of the industry standards of the time. Cancer and miscarriage rates among local communities have rocketed while fish and game populations have plunged. One indigenous tribe has disappeared since Texaco arrived in the region and two more are now on the brink of extinction. Independent experts estimate the cost of environmental remediation at $6 billion.
Lawyers and leaders of the plaintiffs have been the subject of various acts of intimidation in recent weeks. The harassment follows the suspension of a judicial field inspection by the Ecuadorian court at one of the contaminated sites after a military report falsely warned that a nearby indigenous community, of Cofan Indians, might threaten or kidnap Chevron's representatives during the inspection.
The threats and kidnap attempts are already being investigated by Ecuador's Human Rights Ombudsman, Dr. Claudio MuecKay and the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS). A raft of human rights non-profits in Ecuador have also taken up the case. Specifically, Dr. MuecKay, has asked the armed forces to clarify their involvement in the case. He has also demanded that the Justice Minister, Cecilia Armas, launch a criminal probe into the threats and kidnap attempts.
Luis Yanza, coordinator of the lawsuit against Chevron, whose nine-year-old daughter recently suffered a kidnap attempt, said: "We are very grateful for the support we are receiving from national and international human rights organizations, as well as the response of the Ecuadorian Human Rights Ombudsman, and we hope the Ecuadorian government starts taking a more active role in dealing with these incidents, of which it is well aware."
Meanwhile, the Ecuadorian Defense Secretary, Oswaldo Jarrín, has just cancelled for the second time his scheduled appearance before Ecuador's congressional Indigenous Affairs Commission to explain the role of the armed forces in the Chevron case. He had been due to answer questions about a shadowy contract between the army and the company, and about the controversial military report.
Tomorrow, Thursday, December 8, the last inspection of 2005 will take place at a wellsite in the Sacha oilfield, in the province of Orellana, in northeastern Ecuador. Built and operated by Texaco, the oilwell dumped its waste in the Jivino Rojo river, near the village of Enokaqui, home to approximately 100 families.