Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

U.S. State Department Concludes Ecuador Provides Impartial Tribunals, Says Expert Report

Chevron Continues to Manipulate Data to Evade Environmental Liability

Amazon Defense Coalition

Amazon Defense Coalition
8 September 2011 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

New York, NY – A new report based on U.S. government data and independent surveys demonstrates conclusively that Ecuador's court system ranks better than most of its neighbors in Latin America and provides impartial tribunals to litigants, clearly undermining Chevron's claims that an $18 billion judgment against it for environmental damage from the South American country cannot be enforced.

The report was prepared by a prominent expert on Latin American court systems, Dr. Joseph Staats, and filed recently in a New York federal court on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadorian residents who won an $18.2 billion judgment against Chevron for the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste onto their ancestral lands. Chevron, which operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992, has tried to attack the judgment by claiming Ecuador's courts are unfair.

Using data from the U.S. State Department and independent surveys including one conducted by Freedom House, the Staats report details how Ecuador's judiciary ranks in the top third of all Latin American countries and is better than 55% of the countries in the entire world.

Staats is a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota who has done extensive fieldwork and research on the court systems of all 17 Latin American countries, including in Ecuador under the auspices of the United Nations Development Program.

"This new report clearly undermines Chevron's preposterous claim that Ecuador's courts are systemically unfair," said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians, noting that Chevron has won multiple lawsuits in Ecuador in recent years against Ecuador's state-owned oil company.

"If one were to believe Chevron's claims about Ecuador, more than half of the countries in the world – including countries like Argentina and Brazil – would be unable to produce court judgments that could be considered fair and enforceable," she added. "The reality is that Chevron is attacking those courts because it lost a trial based on the scientific evidence and doesn't want to pay up."

Among the findings of Staats:

Based on a review of annual Human Rights Reports from the U.S. State Department from 2004 to 2010 for all 17 Latin American countries, Ecuador "fared considerably better than many of its neighbors" on the issue of judicial independence for each year except 2006. The most recent State Department report, which covers 2010, found that Ecuador's courts are generally "considered independent and impartial".

The highly-respected Cingranelli-Richards survey ("CIRI"), named after two professors who systematically assess human rights in 195 countries, found that on the issue of judicial independence Ecuador ranked so high that it was surpassed only by three countries in Latin America – Costa Rica, Chile, and Uruguay. Other than 2006, Ecuador's degree of judicial independence consistently rated better than countries such as Argentina, Peru, and Brazil.

In the Freedom in the World Report, published annually by Freedom House, Ecuador ranked as "partly free" along with the majority of the other 16 Latin American countries. The report also ranked Ecuador better on issues of freedom than 55% of all countries.

Staats concluded: "It is my expert opinion that Ecuador does, in fact, provide impartial tribunals and procedures compatible with the requirements of due process."

The Staats report noted that all "developing democracies ... have higher degrees of corruption and susceptibility to outside pressure than judicial systems in first-world democracies" but that Ecuador has fared "considerably better" than most other Latin American countries.

In reviewing reports from Chevron's experts attacking Ecuador's judiciary, Staats found that they largely relied on anecdotes cited in newspaper articles rather than rigorous academic research. Chevron's lead expert on the issue of judicial independence in Ecuador, Alvaro Grau, is a longtime opponent of Ecuador's current President and his report completely ignored the CIRI study.

"I am not persuaded by anecdotal examples offered up by [Grau]...It is fairly easy to conjure up a list of anecdotes of corruption or bending to outside pressure to make a point, even in the best of judicial systems," Staats wrote.

Staats noted that there have been numerous instances in the U.S. of judges being arrested for taking bribes, being impeached for corruption, or bowing to political pressure – but those examples are not reasons to condemn the entire U.S. court system, as Chevron is attempting to do in Ecuador based on similar anecdotes.

Instead of abiding by the Ecuador judgment, earlier this year Chevron filed an unprecedented lawsuit in New York before Judge Louis Kaplan seeking a declaratory judgment that the entire Ecuadorian judiciary is broken. Chevron hopes to use a favorable ruling from Kaplan to obstruct enforcement efforts by the Ecuadorians around the world, but it is unclear if the New York appellate court will allow Kaplan to proceed with a planned November trial.

The Ecuadorians have accused Kaplan of harboring a deep-seated resentment toward their lawsuit and are seeking his recusal. The appellate court will hear argument on that issue on Sept. 16.

Chevron's attacks on Ecuador also rely on an annual index published by Transparency International ("TI"), whose rankings are based on public surveys that seek to capture a general "public perception" of the level of the corruption in a country. TI's survey does not focus specifically on the judicial system of a given country it surveys, although in Ecuador Chevron tries to use it for that purpose.

Chevron's claims about Ecuador's courts are ironic given that the company heaped lavish praise on those courts from 1993 to 2002 in a successful effort to transfer the environmental litigation out of U.S. federal court, where the Ecuadorians originally filed the case. At the time, Chevron promised to abide by any judgment from Ecuador's courts.

After an eight-year trial, the Ecuador court on Feb. 14 found that to lower production costs Chevron discharged billions of gallons of toxic waste into Amazon lands and waterways from 1964 to 1992, leading to increased rates of cancer and the decimation of indigenous groups.

"The judgment against Chevron is based on 200,000 pages of evidence that clearly establishes that Chevron systematically polluted the Ecuadorian Amazon to maximize its profits, sacrificing innocent lives in the process," Hinton added.