High-Stakes Trial in San Francisco Focuses Attention on Chevron's Growing Human Rights Problems Around Globe

Oil Giant Seems Increasingly Out of Step with Industry Rivals with Accusations It Helped Orchestrate Deaths of Nigerian Villagers
Hiring of Bush Administration "Torture Lawyer" Latest Controversy

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San Francisco - Chevron is embarking today on a high stakes defense in U.S. federal court against charges that it helped orchestrate the killing of two Nigerian villagers at a time when its corporate legal department is under mounting pressure for disregarding human rights issues, an environmental group said today.

Chevron's recent high-profile hiring of William J. Haynes, a former Bush Administration lawyer implicated in the torture scandal at Guantanamo Bay, is the latest sign that Chevron's legal department has become increasingly callous to human rights concerns, said Kevin Koenig, an organizer with Amazon Watch, which monitors the company's human rights and environmental record.

"Of all the U.S. oil companies, Chevron is the most out of step when it comes to human rights issues at a time when those issues are becoming more important to the ability of American companies to access supply around the world," Koenig said.

A myriad of human rights troubles are stacking up against the oil giant: a $16.3 liability in a civil case in Ecuador over rainforest contamination that has led to the decimation of five indigenous tribes, the criminal indictments in Ecuador of two Chevron lawyers for lying about a purported clean-up, and Chevron's partnership with the Burmese military dictatorship on a pipeline project where charges have been leveled of rape, murder, and forced conscription.

These problems are in addition to a scathing report by the U.S. Interior Department that recently found Chevron employees were trading drugs and sex to bribe government employees to lower royalty payments for drilling on federal lands. Chevron was the only oil company investigated to refuse to cooperate with the government probe.

"Chevron loves to thumb its nose at any entity which tries to hold it accountable, but it is not so easy to do that to a federal judge overseeing a trial," Koenig added, referring to the Nigeria case.

Among the human rights troubles focusing attention on the oil company:

  • In the San Francisco case, which is taking place just miles from Chevron headquarters in San Ramon, Chevron is accused of helping Nigerian soldiers shoot and kill two villagers who had peacefully taken over an oil platform to protest environmental and social conditions. Several Nigerians are expected to provide emotional testimony against Chevron.
  • In Ecuador, two Chevron lawyers and several former Ecuador government officials are under indictment for lying about the results of a purported environmental remediation designed to help Chevron escape a potential multi-billion civil liability pending in U.S. court. Chevron was recently assessed damages by an Ecuador court of up to $16.3 billion - almost one year of profits -- for creating what experts believe is the worst oil-related disaster on earth. The lawyers face prison terms of up to ten years if convicted, and the company faces the largest civil judgment in history for an environmental problem.
  • In Burma, Chevron has been under intense criticism for partnering in a pipeline project that produces close to $1 billion annually for the country's military regime, considered along with North Korea one of the worst human rights violators in the world. In a recently released report by Earth Rights International, a non-profit human rights organization, Chevron is accused of having potential liability for murder, rape, and forced conscription by Burmese soldiers related to the project.

The hiring of Haynes as Chevron's deputy general counsel, however, is bound to cause the company even more problems. As General Counsel at the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Haynes approved several controversial interrogation methods such as water boarding, the use of dogs, nudity, hooding, humiliation, and isolation. His role has been detailed in a long article in Vanity Fair and in various books, and there is an effort in Germany to have him indicted on criminal charges relating to torture.

Chevron's General Counsel, Charles S. James, is an old friend of Haynes from their work together in the Bush Administration when James was at the Justice Department, said Koenig. It was widely known in legal circles that Haynes had been rejected for a federal judgeship and was having difficulty landing a job because of his role in providing legal cover for torture.

"Haynes has been radioactive for years and it is shocking a major public company would give its General Counsel the authority to hire someone widely seen as an international pariah," said Koenig.

Compared to its rivals, Chevron is also losing ground in making human rights a priority. BP and Shell, for example, have an extensive human rights policies while Chevron has yet to develop one - an issue that a group of large Chevron shareholders recently raised as a concern.

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