Trial Team In Chevron's $6 Billion Ecuador Rainforest Suit Faces New Threats
Amnesty International ‘Urgent Action’ Prompts 600 Letters From 22 Countries To Ecuador’s Government
30 October 2006 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Click to view a chronology of the pattern of intimidation.
Quito - More than 600 people from 22 countries have sent letters to Ecuador's government demanding protection for the legal team suing Chevron (formerly ChevronTexaco) in a landmark $6 billion pollution trial in Ecuador's rainforest after a series of new threats.
The trial is under increasing stress from a series of suspicious incidents that appear to be designed to intimidate members of the team representing the 30,000 affected persons. The intimidation includes an anonymous death threat, robberies of lawyers' offices, an attempted kidnapping, and a vicious assault.
Chevron employs retired Ecuadorian army officers as part of its private security force in Ecuador, and its lawyers live on a military base in the Amazon that has long been suspected of housing human rights violators in the Ecuadorian military.
The company denies any involvement in the human rights violations, but has failed to hold an independent investigation into the activities of its Ecuadorian employees.
The latest incident occurred Oct. 22 when a man claiming to be a security guard told a spokeswoman for the plaintiffs that he had fired several shots to scare away five people trying to enter the house where she lives with her two young daughters. Subsequent investigations revealed that no such security guard was employed in the neighborhood.
The woman, Lupita de Heredia, had just completed a series of radio interviews in which she condemned Chevron's toxic pollution of the Amazon rainforest when the attempted break-in occurred. Last April, a car tried to run Ms. de Heredia off the road near a dangerous cliff in a mountainous area outside Quito.
In all, 14 such incidents have taken place against the plaintiff's team in the landmark environmental trial that accuses Chevron of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Ecuador's rainforest between 1964 and 1992. The suit, filed in 2003 and expected to end next year, charges that the dumping and other substandard practices threaten the lives of tens of thousands of residents and would cost at least $6 billion to remediate.
The incidents include an anonymous death threat against a lawyer, Pablo Fajardo; robberies of the separate law offices of Alejandro Ponce and Julio Prieto, both members of the legal team; and the attempted kidnapping of the 9-year-old daughter of the trial coordinator for the affected communities, Luis Yanza. None of the incidents have resulted in arrests and the police appear not to be investigating the complaints
The letters sent to Ecuador's government, prompted by an "urgent action" call from Amnesty International, came from countries including the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Korea, and Australia.
Earlier this year, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission called on Ecuador's government to protect the integrity of the trial. The government also received letters concerning the threats from the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, and the United Nations.
Atossa Soltani, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, an environmental organization monitoring the trial, called on Chevron to conduct an independent investigation into the incidents to see if the company was involved.
"We are extremely concerned for the safety of the plaintiffs' legal team. We question whether Chevron's management in the U.S. has any idea of what local Ecuadorian armed agents are doing, seemingly on the corporation's behalf," she said.
"Unless the company holds an independent investigation, it is essentially turning a blind eye to human rights abuses that apparently are being committed on its behalf."