Legal

The unnecessary truth: reflections on what wasn’t told in the Chevron Ecuador RICO case

Last November, Marissa took a leave of absence from ERI to volunteer on the Chevron v. Donziger trial in support of the Ecuadorian defendants.  These are her thoughts from the case. 

Lago Agrio, Ecuador: It is a Sunday afternoon in the Sucumbíos province in Northeastern Ecuador. Donald Moncayo navigates his way across a series of floating logs at the Aguarico 4 pit. He stops and dips his hand into a thick black pool and holds it up for us to see: black crude left by Texaco’s operations. 

Each year, several dozen delegations of people come down to the Oriente region of Ecuador to participate in one of Donald’s “toxic tours.” Learning about the history of contamination from Donald is how they bear witness to one of the greatest environmental justice battles of the past century.  

I first met Donald under very different circumstances – when he traveled to New York last November to serve as a witness in the now infamous trial for the retaliatory lawsuit that Chevron brought against dozens of Ecuadorian “afectados” (affected peoples), their lawyers, and supporting scientists in an effort to collaterally attack a judgment issued against it by an Ecuadorian court for decades of deliberate contamination in the Oriente

At the time, I had taken a leave of absence from ERI to serve as a volunteer on the trial team in support of the Ecuadorian defendants – the Lago Agrio plaintiffs (the LAPs). ERI has supported justice for the LAPs at various stages, but ERI was not directly involved in the trial, and my work there was independent of my work for ERI. For several months, I worked alongside an amazing team of young volunteer human rights lawyers, a handful of plaintiff-side trial lawyers, their family members and children who volunteered as paralegals, . . .

Yes, the systematic killing of civilians is a crime against humanity, even if the killers had a military motive

Related Projects: 

Last year, a federal district court held that widespread and systematic killing of civilians are not crimes against humanity if the killers suspected them of supporting anti-government forces.  A recent EarthRights brief demonstrates why the court was mistaken.

Program Area: 

Barrick Gold Using Coercive Settlement Provisions to Perpetuate Legacy of Environmental Harm

After nearly a decade of litigation over environmental devastation in the Philippines caused by Placer Dome’s mining operations (now Barrick Gold Corp.), Barrick has reportedly given the Province of Marinduque a take-it-or-leave-it settlement offer that would prohibit the Province from spending a penny to clean up the damage the company left behind.

For decades, Placer Dome operated two mines in the Province of Marinduque, during which time it intentionally dumped hundreds of millions of tons of toxic mine waste into traditional fishing areas, and catastrophic dam failures flooded rivers with toxic mine waste. Notably, Placer Dome’s long time business partner during much of that period was notorious dictator Ferdinand Marcos, until he was overthrown. The company left the island soon after a massive toxic waste spill in 1996 that rendered the Boac River “biologically dead.”

The Province sued Placer Dome in Nevada nearly a decade ago. When Barrick acquired Placer Dome in 2006, it inherited the lawsuit, along with a legacy of harms around the world.

The parties have been engaged in settlement negotiations since 2011 and significant details have surfaced about the terms of Barrick’s offer. The amount on the table is reportedly $20 million USD, which, after litigation costs and attorneys’ fees, is expected to be closer to $13 million- far less than the projected cost of cleanup.

But here’s the worst part: Barrick’s take-it-or-leave-it offer would expressly prohibit the Province from using any of the settlement fund to rehabilitate and remediate the environmental damage caused by the mine’s operations or to stabilize the dangerous mine structures abandoned by the company more than a decade ago. According to two Marinduque lawmakers who have voiced opposition to the terms, the agreement would stipulate “that the settlement proceeds can never be used for the . . .

Letter to Senate: Our Courts Are Diverse, But Not Diverse Enough

Dear Senator:

As organizations committed to a federal judiciary that safeguards the rights of all Americans, we urge you to work toward filling judicial vacancies with judges who are not only exceptionally well-qualified, but who also reflect the full diversity of the legal profession.

Program Area: 

Publish What You Pay Rebuts Industry Claims, Argues for Strong New Transparency Rule

A few months ago, the oil lobby sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), demanding that transparency requirements be watered down in the wake of a court ruling that sent mandatory disclosure regulations back to the Commission for a re-write.  Last week, the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) coalition struck back.  In a new submission to the SEC, the coalition underlines the importance of information on extractive companies’ payments to governments for investors and citizens of resource-rich countries and rebuts the industry’s arguments.

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the ways in which the American Petroleum Institute (API) has twisted facts and invented doomsday scenarios to avoid disclosing their payments to the public.  Unsurprisingly (and unapologetically), they regurgitated the same misleading arguments in their most recent submission to the SEC.  API insists that the only way to address their concerns is for the SEC to keep payment disclosures confidential, to publish only an anonymized compilation of country-level data, and to grant reporting exemptions so big, you could sneak an oil tanker through them.  PWYP’s comment puts these absurd arguments to rest.

First, PWYP shows that not only human rights groups that want these disclosures; investors are also keen to see what extractive companies pay for their natural resources.  In fact, investors with over $5.6 trillion in assets under management have come out in support of detailed, public disclosure of natural resource payments to governments.  In addition to socially responsible funds, these investors include UBS, one of the largest asset managers in the world, which clearly makes decisions based on expected returns rather than ethical considerations.  As it turns out, the interests of investors and communities converge when it comes to mandatory transparency.  Both groups have a strong desire to see . . .