On October 1, 2021 Steven Donziger, a lawyer and environmental rights defender who successfully represented victims of oil dumping in Ecuador, was sentenced to six months in prison on a politically motivated ‘contempt of court’ charge. He has already spent more than two years under house arrest in a process that United Nations experts found lacks any legal basis and is in violation of numerous fair trial standards. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that his detention is in retaliation for his work as a lawyer for the Indigenous communities in Ecuador. He must be released immediately and unconditionally.
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Attorney General Merrick Garland
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530, USA
Email: [email protected]
Dear Attorney General Garland,
is a US lawyer and environmental rights defender who has represented victims of oil dumping in an emblematic case against Chevron Corporation in Ecuador, following accusations that the corporation was responsible for what is widely considered one of the worst oil-related environmental disasters in recent history. He has been under pre-trial house arrest since August 2019 after he refused to comply with a court order to hand over his electronic devices, arguing that such a disclosure could compromise the confidentiality of the communications with his clients and put them at risk. The detention follows a long-running smear campaign of intimidation and harassment against Steven Donziger and other human rights defenders by Chevron.
In September 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Steven Donziger’s deprivation of liberty is arbitrary because it lacks any legal basis and is in violation of several norms relating to the right to a fair trial, including the apparent lack of impartiality of the courts. Moreover, the Working Group concluded that his detention appears to be in retaliation for his work as a legal representative of Indigenous communities in Ecuador.
Despite serious concerns over the lack of independence, objectivity and impartiality of the judge who ordered the pre-trial house arrest and who has overseen the trial over criminal contempt charges, Steven Donziger was sentenced on October 1, 2021 to the maximum penalty of 6 months in prison and denied the possibility to be released pending an appeal.
I urge the Department of Justice to assume jurisdiction over the case instead of the private prosecutor, and promptly implement the UN Working Group’s decision by ensuring that Steven Donziger is released immediately and unconditionally. I also call on you to launch a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding Steven Donziger’s arbitrary deprivation of liberty and take the necessary measures to ensure that corporations do not abuse the justice system to target and harass human rights defenders.