Chevron Attempts to Evade 18 Billion Dollar Liability in Ecuador
A distinguished international law jurist from Latin America has issued a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asking for a review of Chevron's "egregious misuse" of an investor treaty to evade its $18 billion liability in Ecuador for creating one of the world's worst oil-related disasters in the Amazon rainforest, according to a letter released to thousands of arbitration specialists around the globe.
Jose Daniel Amado, a leading law scholar in Peru and a specialist in international arbitration, told the Secretary General that Chevron's latest attempt to deny the legal claims of the rainforest communities to be decided by an arbitration panel that meets in secret "stands in direct violation of international law" and would "quash" the fundamental human rights of the 30,000 citizens who initially brought suit against Chevron in the U.S. in 1993.
Chevron shifted that lawsuit to Ecuador in 2002 after praising the country's judicial system and promising to abide by any judgment there, subject only to narrow enforcement defenses that did not include international arbitration.
"Chevron has constructed what appears to be a calculated plan to manipulate a commercial investment dispute system to evade the outcome of a private litigation," wrote Amado, who has served as a consultant to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.
Amado asked the Secretary General to conduct a review of the matter "to ensure that the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) arbitration system is not used by Chevron to undo international law protections guaranteeing access to justice."
In January, after a nine-year legal proceeding, a three-judge panel of the Ecuador appellate court confirmed an $18 billion award against Chevron for the deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways that local inhabitants relied on for drinking water. The Ecuador trial court found evidence that Chevron's contamination decimated indigenous groups and caused an outbreak of cancer and other oil-related diseases. For more information, click here and here.
The trial in Ecuador produced 220,000 pages of evidence and more than 64,000 chemical sampling results from independent laboratories which proved that dozens of Chevron oil production facilities suffer from extensive levels of life-threatening heavy metals and toxins, according to the findings of the Ecuador court.
On Jan. 4, the day after the Ecuador appellate court decision, Chevron petitioned a private arbitration panel convened under the U.S.-Ecuador BIT to order Ecuador's executive branch to interfere in its independent judiciary and block the ability of the Ecuadorian citizens to enforce their judgment in countries around the world. Chevron had stripped its assets from Ecuador to avoid paying the judgment.
Lawyers for the Ecuadorians say the arbitration panel does not have such authority, and that in any event Ecuador's government is obligated to ignore its orders given its own binding legal obligations under the Ecuador Constitution and various international treaties protecting the human rights of its citizens. See the letter from Ecuadorian lawyer Pablo Fajardo by clicking here.
The arbitration panel prohibits the Ecuadorians from appearing before it and takes no steps to inform them (or the public) of the status of its proceedings or when or where it is meeting. Nor does it release its decisions in a system that clearly lacks due process of law, said Aaron Page, who represents the Ecuadorians and who has represented governments in the arbitral proceedings.
Some commentators have likened the secret arbitration panel to a "kangaroo court" rife with conflicts of interest and imbued with a pro-business culture. See this article by clicking here.
The arbitrators are private sector lawyers who generally rule in favor of investors and against sovereign governments—a fact which in recent years has led several countries to withdraw or threaten to withdraw in recent years from the arbitral system, said Page.
"Chevron's radical request for relief in this case potentially undermines the credibility of the entire investor arbitral regime," Page said.
In the letter to Ban Ki-moon, Amado noted that a recent "interim" order by the arbitration panel asking Ecuador's government to freeze the environmental case "makes a travesty of the bilateral commercial treaty system" and represents an "illegal expansion of arbitral powers with wide-ranging implications for well-settled principles of international law, including fundamental human rights and state sovereignty."
"Such a result is simply untenable under international law—BIT arbitral panels cannot be called on by investors to set aside countries' constitutional systems and sovereignty, which are essential components of modern democracies," he added.
Concern over Chevron's latest stratagem, Amado pointed out, is shared by a U.S. federal appellate court which ruled last year that the longstanding legal claims of the Ecuadorians "cannot be settled" through the BIT arbitration given that they are not a party to those proceedings.
"The international legal community was shocked by this [interim] Order, which Chevron interpreted to force the Ecuadorian executive branch affirmatively to interfere in a judicial process and limit Ecuador's sovereignty vis-a-vis a case that has been in the courts for 18 years," he said.
The Amado letter was emailed to 7,000 arbitrators around the world by the Peruvian Arbitration Institute, which said it considered the letter "of high interest" to the international arbitration community.
Amado is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the founding partner of Miranda & Amado, one of Peru's leading law firms. He has published numerous articles on international law topics, has lectured in various countries, and has represented both private investors and governments before BIT arbitration panels.
Amado is also a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Peru and is president of the Energy Legal Committee of Peru's National Mining, Oil and Energy Society.
The three arbitrators hearing the Chevron claims—all private lawyers who represent investors before other arbitration panels in the same treaty system—stand to personally reap millions of dollars in fees if they grant jurisdiction over the case, which in itself is a hotly contested issue given that Chevron left Ecuador five years before the U.S.-Ecuador BIT took effect in 1997, Page said.
R. Doak Bishop, an American from the firm King & Spalding who is Chevron's lead lawyer in the Ecuador matter, has served as an arbitrator in numerous cases convened under the BIT process while he simultaneously represents private clients in the same system. Ecuador's American lawyers are only putting up a nominal defense, essentially leaving the Ecuador plaintiffs without representation before the panel, said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the plaintiffs.
In any event, it is clear that any "award" from the panel will lack legitimacy in countries that observe the rule of law and will not be an obstacle to enforcement of the Ecuador judgment, said Amado.
"This is a far-fetched strategy by Chevron that has little chance of working," said Amado. "But it is our duty as international lawyers to prevent it from causing collateral damage to the international legal order that protects the human rights of all peoples worldwide."
Chevron operated in Ecuador under the Texaco brand from 1964 to 1992.
A background document on Chevron's arbitration stratagem is available by clicking here.
For more information, click here.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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