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With its options dwindling and the mistakes of its legal team mounting, Chevron has suffered another courtroom setback in its eleventh-hour attempt to block indigenous rainforest communities from enforcing their $18 billion judgment against the oil giant’s assets around the world.
A three-judge appellate panel in Ecuador on Friday ruled that a Chevron request for a special bond waiver had no basis in Ecuadorian law, thereby paving the way for the commencement of enforcement actions. Chevron has stripped its assets from Ecuador, forcing the rainforest communities to consider standard judgment collection lawsuits against the oil giant in other countries.
“We intend to do everything in our power to ensure Chevron’s management team meets the company’s legal obligations and pays the full amount of the judgment,” said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the 30,000 Ecuadorians who initiated the lawsuit against the oil giant in U.S. federal court in 1993.
“Chevron broke the rainforest of Ecuador,” said Fajardo. “Now it must fix it.”
Once the judgment against Chevron was affirmed by the same Ecuador appellate panel in early January, the oil giant was obligated to request the bond pending an extraordinary final appeal to the nation’s highest court. Payment of such a bond was the only way under Ecuadorian law to temporarily suspend enforcement of the judgment, but Chevron’s legal team blundered by never asking for it, said Fajardo.
Instead of requesting the bond — which easily could have been paid given Chevron’s annual revenues of$240 billion – Chevron requested an unprecedented waiver of the bond requirement. After Chevron sought the waiver, the rainforest communities charged the oil giant was seeking “special treatment” not available to any other litigant in Ecuador.
The court, in a four-page decision, said seeking a bond “is the only established legal mechanism to give litigants in Ecuador the opportunity to suspend execution of a judgment.” In reference to Chevron, it added: “The losing party decided not to exercise this right.”
Separately, the court rejected an “order” issued Thursday from a private investment arbitration thatEcuador’s government freeze the 18-year litigation until it can rule on a separate set of Chevron claims that it the court system in Ecuador treated it unfairly. See here. The private investment panel has been harshly criticized by jurists for violating international law, and the rainforest communities have said its actions have no bearing on their claims given they are not a party to the proceedings. See here and here.
In a detailed analysis of the international law obligations of Ecuador’s government, the appellate panel said the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights and Ecuador’s Constitution trumped any authority from the investment panel, which was convened by Chevron under the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty.
The rainforest communities recently filed a petition with a noted human rights court to block any order from the secret arbitral panel, whose members — all private lawyers — stand to reap millions of dollars of fees for simply granting jurisdiction over the case.
“No part of this Convention can be interpreted to permit any person (such as Chevron or the Arbitral Panel) to interfere with the enjoyment and exercise of rights and liberties recognized in the Convention, nor can it override other rights and guarantees that are inherent in the rights of all men,” the panel wrote in its decision.
The panel also ruled that international law to protect investors can never override international treaties that protect fundamental human rights of individuals, including the right to life and the right to seek legal redress, both of which are being exercised by the rainforest communities.
“A simple arbitral award … cannot obligate judges to do violence to the human rights of the citizens of the country where it sits,” said the panel.
A representative of the rainforest communities was pleased with the decision, which she said protects the independence of Ecuador’s courts and ensures that a private investor treaty cannot trump the fundamental human rights of ordinary citizens. The trial was held in Ecuador only after Chevron moved it there from U.S. federal court, promising to abide by any adverse judgment.
“The Ecuador appellate panel spoke in a way that is consistent with both Ecuador’s laws and the country’s international treaty obligations,” said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the rainforest communities. “It shows that Ecuador’s independent courts will not succumb to Chevron’s political pressure nor its request for special treatment.”
“After 18 years of dealing with Chevron’s bad faith and abusive litigation tactics, the rainforest communities have a final and enforceable judgment,” she added.
The Ecuador appellate court did grant Chevron’s request for an extraordinary appeal to the National Court of Justice, a process that likely will take one to two years to conclude.
The appellate ruling comes at a time when Chevron officials are furiously trying to cut a side deal withEcuador’s government to illegally quash the environmental case, said Fajardo. The company apparently offered $1 billion to the government to end-run the legal process, an act that could expose Chevron to criminal liability under various anti-bribery statutes in the United States and other countries, he added.
The Ecuador trial court in February 2011 found overwhelming scientific evidence that Chevron deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways when it operated in Ecuador under the Texaco brand from 1964 to 1992. The dumping decimated indigenous groups and caused an outbreak of cancer that could lead to thousands of deaths in the coming years, according to evidence before the court. See here and here.
A video that tells the story of the environmental disaster and of Chevron’s fraudulent cover-up can be seen here.
The amount of damages set by the Ecuador court is modest compared to the potential liability of BP in the much smaller Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, said Hinton. BP already has committed $20 billion in compensation for the Gulf spill, an amount that does not include an estimated$60 to $80 billion in additional liability from civil lawsuits now pending in U.S. federal courts.
Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/rainforestactionnetwork/