Stand Up to Big Oil: Urge President Biden To Pardon Human Rights Lawyer Steven Donziger

President Joe Biden

If you are able, please consider contributing to Steven's crowdfunding campaign so we can build the resources we need to ensure the White House addresses this injustice without delay.

President Biden must correct a grave injustice by granting a pardon to the renowned US environmental human rights lawyer Steven Donziger.

Findings by multiple courts show that between 1964 and 1990, Chevron deliberately dumped billions of gallons of cancer-causing oil waste onto Indigenous ancestral lands in Ecuador’s Amazon. The intentional dumping poisoned waterways that local communities depend on for their drinking water, bathing, and fishing.

The resulting environmental catastrophe in the Amazon has killed thousands of Indigenous peoples and farmers and decimated forest culture -- many of these communities still do not have access to clean drinking water.

In 1993, Steven Donziger courageously stepped up to help represent Ecuadorian villagers in a lawsuit against Chevron. Working with a team of Ecuadorian and international lawyers, he helped the villagers win a historic $9.5 billion pollution case against the oil giant after 18 years of hard-fought litigation.

But Chevron has not paid out one cent.

A Chevron spokesman even said the company would fight the Indigenous peoples until “hell freezes over” and then “fight it out on the ice.”

That was just the beginning of what turned out to be the most vicious corporate retaliation in US history. Chevron's goal was to completely destroy Mr. Donziger's reputation as both a lawyer and as an individual, and potentially put him in a position where he could be killed.

Chevron hired 60 law firms and used 2,000 lawyers to relentlessly and unjustly target Mr. Donziger and his vulnerable clients with what might be the most well-financed corporate retaliation campaign in history.

Chevron went after Mr. Donziger personally, orchestrating the unprecedented removal of his law license without a hearing. The company then privately targeted Mr. Donziger in the name of the US government in the nation’s first corporate prosecution. Chevron then forced him to spend close to three years under house arrest after he refused to give them his computer and confidential case file.

Mr. Donziger was then sentenced to six months in federal prison in a subsequent contempt trial overseen by a judge who demonstrated a “staggering” and “appalling” level of bias in favor of Chevron, according to five prominent jurists from the United Nations. The same judge who charged Mr. Donziger with contempt of court also appointed the prosecutor from a Chevron law firm, supervised the prosecution, and acted as the jury in the same case.

The legal proceeding against Mr. Donziger violated the rule of law and embarrassed the United States in the eyes of the world. The Working Group On Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations determined Mr. Donziger’s detention to be “arbitrary” and "illegal" under international law.

Chevron's vicious retaliation targeting Mr. Donziger continues to this day. Without a pardon, he could be arrested on a moment's notice at Chevron's request. The company has confiscated his passport and has refused to let him travel out of the country. Without a pardon, Mr. Donziger will never be able to enjoy the rights of full citizenship under the law.

By granting this pardon, President Biden will:

  • Correct a grave injustice carried out by the fossil fuel industry to retaliate against those who protect vulnerable communities from toxic contamination;

  • Protect a global human rights leader and his family from retaliation by the oil industry;

  • Support the freedom of all lawyers and advocates to fight for climate justice without fear of corporate retaliation;

  • Demonstrate unwavering support for free speech, the rule of law, and our system of separation of powers that does not allow one person to be prosecutor, jury, and judge in a single case as happened here.

In addition to a request for a pardon, we urge President Biden to start a comprehensive investigation into Chevron’s illegal and abusive retaliation campaign to evade compensating the people it harmed. As a result of Chevron’s failure to clean up its pollution, Amazon communities continue to face imminent risk of death and the decimation of their unique cultures.

A pardon of Mr. Donziger and justice for the Amazon communities is a matter of utmost legal and moral urgency.

If you are able, please consider contributing to Steven's crowdfunding campaign so we can build the resources we need to ensure the White House addresses this injustice without delay.

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To: President Joe Biden
From: [Your Name]

Dear President Biden,
I'm writing to you to ask that you pardon environmental and human rights lawyer Steven Donziger and launch an investigation into Chevron’s crimes in the Amazon.

Steven Donziger is an American hero who has demonstrated unwavering courage over the past thirty years in his fight to hold Chevron Corporation accountable for its decades-long pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon and to seek justice for the more than 30,000 villagers and farmworkers whose health and home was irreparably destroyed. In 2011, Donziger helped these impacted communities win a historic $9.5 billion class-action lawsuit against Chevron for its egregious environmental and human rights violations: the largest judgment of its kind in history.

But to this day, Chevron has not paid 1 cent. Instead, it exerted its power over the courts to try to invalidate the ruling and criminally prosecute Donziger in the name of the U.S. government. Donziger was never allowed a jury, was baselessly accused of ‘racketeering’, and was then convicted of contempt of court (by a judge with ties to Chevron) for refusing to violate attorney-client confidentiality. Donziger was subsequently detained in his home for over two years before serving six weeks in federal prison. This unprecedented corporate-led prosecution and conviction has been condemned as illegal by several prominent international jurists, including the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and two prominent members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chevron’s outrageous abuse of power in this case sets a precedent that affects us all, particularly those of us who engage in protest: we are facing the wrath of corporations that wield such influence over our courts that they are able to prosecute and jail us directly. This is central to the fossil fuel industry's new playbook to silence public opposition: distract, bankrupt, and even lock up environmental defenders as a way to intimidate others from speaking out.

President Biden, I voted for you because of your commitments to climate justice and the First Amendment, and to take a stand against the fossil fuel industry's growing influence over our political system. Pardoning Steven Donziger, an environmental champion and a brave defender of human rights, is a crucial test of these commitments.

There is not a moment to waste. People are dying in Ecuador and their lawyer is not even allowed to work.

I ask that you please heed our voices and fix this injustice.