Global human rights community calls for freedom for human rights lawyer Steven Donziger – unjustly detained for over two years according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
Washington, D.C.— For more than two years, human rights lawyer Steven Donziger – currently serving the remainder of a six month sentence on house arrest – has been arbitrarily detained in apparent retaliation for his work to hold Chevron accountable for its deliberate dumping of more than 16 billion gallons of toxic oil waste into the Amazon rainforest. Despite repeated calls from human rights advocates and governmental authorities for Donziger’s release, the Department of Justice has refused to respond or take any action to remedy this human rights violation. Today, over 100 human rights and environmental organizations from around the world joined Amnesty International, Greenpeace USA, Amazon Watch, Global Witness, Rainforest Action Network, HEDA Resource Center, ReCommon, and the Pachamama Alliance to call on President Biden to exercise his clemency powers to pardon Steven Donziger as a way to ensure his immediate release.
In a letter to President Biden, the organizations state: “More than four months since a discerning opinion by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that found Steven Donziger’s detention to be arbitrary, U.S. judicial authorities have thus far failed to take any action to remedy the situation and implement the Working Group’s call to ensure Mr. Donziger’s immediate release.”
Since April 2021, eleven different Members of the House of Representatives have called on Biden and the Justice Department to intervene to ensure Mr. Donziger’s release and investigate the circumstances surrounding his arbitrary detention, including the lack of impartiality of the courts that have overseen both the civil and criminal case against him. Two U.S. Senators also sent a letter to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts in July 2021 asking pointed questions about the judicial process, which is now widely seen internationally as biased and unjust. They have received no reply to any of the above-mentioned letters.
In a statement in October 2021, President Biden promised the U.S. would “stand in solidarity with, and continue to work tirelessly in support of, the activists, human rights defenders, and peaceful protestors on the front lines of the struggle between freedom and tyranny.” All the while, the administration has failed to side with the brave human rights defenders within the United States and respond to the demand of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Congress, and the international community to free Steven Donziger.
“Steven Donziger is a human rights defender that bravely stood up against one of the most powerful corporations in the world,” said Daniel Joloy of Amnesty International. “In response, he has endured years of harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns and more than two years in arbitrary detention. President Biden must now listen to the over 100 human rights and environmental organizations calling to pardon Steven Donziger and ensure he is released immediately and unconditionally. Allowing this ordeal to continue only sends a chilling message that corporations around the world can continue attacking human rights defenders without consequences.”
Paul Paz y Miño of Amazon Watch said “Instead of supporting the people of Ecuador who were poisoned by Chevron’s admitted deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste, Biden has turned a blind eye to the persecution of a key lawyer who worked to win a historic judgment against Chevron. The U.S. government’s responsibility should be to make Chevron clean up its waste and support efforts to hold the fossil fuel company accountable, not allow the appointment of a private prosecutor with ties to the very same oil company to imprison human rights lawyer Steven Donziger. This travesty has gone on for over two years, and Biden has ignored members of the E.U. parliament, members of the House and Senate, and even the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Well over 100 organizations are now demanding action, and Biden’s lack of action continues to be a dark stain on his alleged claims to respect human rights. Oil companies do not prosecute and imprison people in the U.S. This must end now.”
“Together with over 100 national and international human rights and environmental organizations, we ask for President Biden to pardon human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, who after 952 days, is still under house arrest,” said Annie Leonard, co-Executive Director Greenpeace USA. “Chevron’s legal attack on Donziger is not the first, nor will it be the last case of its kind. Right now, the right to dissent is being repressed by both our government and corporations. While the severity of Donziger’s fate may seem unprecedented, it is emblematic of the larger trend of silencing activists, many of whom are fighting for the solutions desperately needed to combat the global climate crisis exacerbated by multinational fossil fuel companies. Donziger’s fate could have lasting effects on environmental and corporate accountability activists, against whom threats and legal harassment already loom large and are escalating.”
Simon Taylor, Co-Founder & Director, Global Witness said “I have spent much of the past 25 years seeking accountability of the fossil fuel industry for its gross human rights abuses and other crimes. Amongst the judicial authorities we have liaised with during this time, the Southern District of New York has stood as a beacon in this fight against criminality. Shockingly, just as Biden gears up this struggle, New York’s judicial authorities seem instead intent on destroying their reputation, thanks to their apparent complicity in the unprecedented corporate prosecution and judicial harassment of Steven Donziger. These acts, in my experience, are more what I would expect from one of the ‘Banana Republics’ we have investigated around the world. These are shameful acts. If Biden is serious about tackling the climate crisis, he cannot allow the fossil fuel industry to weaponise the US judicial system to go after its detractors – Biden must act now and release Steven Donziger.”