6 March 2006 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Paul Paz y Miño: +1 510.281.9020 x302, firstname.lastname@example.org
San Francisco, CA - Chevron faces serious questions about its human rights record in Ecuador's rainforest following a disturbing pattern of threats and corruption in a landmark environmental trial where the oil giant is a defendant, according to Amazon Watch, an environmental group monitoring the case.
Lawyers for the 80 affected communities have now requested that the International Commission of Jurists send monitors to the trial just days before a much-anticipated judicial inspection in the town of San Carlos, expected to be attended by 300 local residents. San Carlos, located next to a river where Chevron dumped more than one billion gallons of toxic waste water, has one of the highest cancer rates in Ecuador.
The lawsuit represents the first time an American oil giant has been subject to jurisdiction in the courts of a developing country for significant environmental damages. Chevron is accused of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste directly into the rainforest from 1964 to 1992, forcing two indigenous groups to the brink of extinction.
In a letter to the ICJ, the lawyers write: "Without your help, the litigation is in jeopardy and 30,000 people may be denied their fair day in court."
Recent incidents outlined in the letter to the ICJ include:
- The attempted kidnapping of the nine-year-old daughter of Luis Yanza, coordinator of the legal case for the affected communities;
- A death threat against one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, Pablo Fajardo;
Surveillance of the trial leaders, including phone taps and video monitoring;
- A threatening phone call to the home of one of the plaintiffs' lawyers in the early hours of the morning. The unidentified caller asked the lawyer's wife: "Is your alarm system switched on now?"
- A break-in and robbery at the offices of Alejandro Ponce Villacis, a member of the legal team, where files related to the case were taken but cash and other valuable equipment was untouched;
- The creation of a false military report by Texaco lawyers to suspend a judicial inspection on indigenous territory;
- Per a contract between Chevron and the military, Chevron houses its lawyers and other employees in a villa on a military base and receives security services and manual labor from the military. In return, Chevron paid monthly fees and will "donate" the villa to the military at the close of the trial;
- The apparent failure of the Ecuadorian authorities to investigate allegations of harassment and threats despite the filing of complaints with the prosecuting attorneys in Sucumbios and Pichincha provinces more than four months ago.
The intimidation of the plaintiffs has become so intense that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, of the Organization of American States, has granted a petition requesting precautionary measures from the Ecuadorian government. In addition, the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, has written a letter to the Ecuadorian government urging it to prosecute the perpetrators and protect the plaintiffs and their legal team.
It is undeniable that Chevron is deeply involved in several of these illicit attempts to derail the trial - for example, the false military report submitted to the court was solicited by two Chevron employees, according to a military investigation. Moreover, the contractual ties between Chevron and the Ecuadorian military strongly suggest that Chevron is also responsible for the surveillance and threats against plaintiffs' representatives, which were in some cases perpetrated by identified military officers.1
In its most recent country report, from 2004, the U.S. Department of State stated that in Ecuador "members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses." Yet Chevron's lawyers in the Ecuador trial and company security officials (one of whom, Manuel Bravo, is a retired Ecuadorian army captain) continue to live in a luxury villa built by the company in 2004 on a military base and to use uniformed Ecuadorian solders to carry their equipment to and from the judicial inspections. In addition, Amnesty International has documented Chevron's involvement with the military in other countries, like Nigeria, noting that the multinational has failed "to ensure that its security forces act lawfully and in accordance with human rights standards."
Amazon Watch Executive Director Atossa Soltani warned Chevron's global reputation was at stake. She added: "Chevron has a moral responsibility to do everything in its power to stop the harassment and to ensure the integrity of the judicial process. It is also obligated by U.S. and Ecuadorian law to refrain from organizing or participating in illegal activities, including bribery, robbery, and kidnapping."
The ground-breaking lawsuit alleges that Texaco (now owned by Chevron) dumped 18 billion gallons of formation water, a toxic by-product of oil drilling, across an area the size of Rhode Island. The dumping saved Texaco approximately $3 a barrel - and $4.5 billion in total - by avoiding the standard industry practice of re-injecting the waste into a well cavity where it would have minimal environmental impact. These toxic waters have contaminated the water table in much of the area, on which local people rely for drinking and bathing water. Rates of cancer and miscarriages have all risen as a result, according to independent, peer-reviewed health studies.
1. Ermel Chavez, the president of a community organization representing the plaintiffs (Amazon Defense Coalition), testified that a man who identified himself as a military intelligence officer from Rayo 24 (the military base where Chevron's lawyers reside) visited his home to ask his wife about his whereabouts. The same car used by this individual was later seen parked for an extended period of time outside the Coalition's offices with this same individual inside.