Human Right Lawyer Steven Donziger has been under house arrest since August 2019 in anticipation of a contempt of court trial for his involvement representing Ecuadorian Native groups in an environmental damage case against the oil giant Texaco-Chevron. From 1972-1993 Texaco (now the Chevron Corporation) dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste around an oil field at Lago Agrio, Ecuador, leading to widespread crop and animal loss as well as health problems including cancer in the local population, critics have described the clean up of this disaster a shame and the damage itself as ecocide.
In Ecuador in 2011 the Ecuadorian residents effected by Texaco’s actions, represented by Steven Donziger, were awarded $8.6 billion (later appealed to $19 billion) in the first successful lawsuit of a multinational corporation by indigenous peoples in such an environmental damage case. By 2014 U.S. district court judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled that Donziger had used corrupt means to extort Texaco, now Chevron, in the 2011 court verdict in Ecuador, and he blocked efforts to collect damages which Chevron had refused to pay, Donziger appealed this decision and was subsequently held in contempt of court under house arrest.
A number of independent observers have described this as an intimidation lawsuit and a misuse of the American judicial system, while Chevron maintains the Ecuadorian lawsuit was extortion. This case has been paralleled to the case of Julian Assange who is imprisoned in Belmarsh Prison, London for exposing US war crimes in Iraq despite there being no legal precedent for his imprisonment.
What is really at play in these cases?
How similar are these cases?
And is Steven Donziger at risk of becoming the next Julian Assange?