Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Steven Donziger, a human rights lawyer working of behalf of Ecuadorians harmed by over three decades of Texaco-Chevron's oil drilling and dumping of toxic wastewater in the Amazon rainforest, speaks at a press conference on March 19, 2014 in Quito. (Photo: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images)

Steven Donziger, a human rights lawyer working of behalf of Ecuadorians harmed by decades of Texaco-Chevron's oil drilling and dumping of toxic wastewater in the Amazon rainforest, speaks at a press conference on March 19, 2014 in Quito. (Photo: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images)

'Appalled' UN Human Rights Experts Urge Immediate Release, Compensation for Steven Donziger

The detained American attorney who won a judgment against Chevron in Ecuador is set to be sentenced for contempt of court charges in a case stemming from the oil giant's legal retaliation.

Jessica Corbett

Ahead of Steven Donziger's sentencing scheduled for Friday, five United Nations human rights experts ruled that the American attorney who won a multibillion-dollar judgment against Chevron in Ecuadorian courts has been "arbitrarily" detained in the U.S. for 787 days.

"The appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Steven Donziger immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations."
—UN Experts

Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía (FDA)—the Ecuadorian organization that spearheaded the case against Chevron on behalf of Indigenous people impacted by decades of oil pollution in the Amazon—revealed the experts' recent conclusions about Donziger's detention in a statement Wednesday.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, made up of independent experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, said that it was "appalled by uncontested allegations in this case," noting that the U.S. government did not respond to its request for input.

Given the details made available, the working group called on the U.S. government to "take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Mr. Steven Donziger without delay and bring it in conformity with the relevant international norms, including those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

"Taking into account all the circumstances of the case," the working group said, "the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Steven Donziger immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law."

The experts also urged the U.S. government to "ensure a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Mr. Steven Donziger and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of his rights."

Martin Garbus, who leads Donziger's legal team with Ron Kuby, said that "this is an extremely significant and courageous decision by five international jurists who confirm what we have been saying for over two years: Steven Donziger has been subject to an illegal detention orchestrated by Chevron and two ideologically driven trial judges who are retaliating against him for winning a major pollution judgment in Ecuador against a powerful U.S. corporation."

After the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York declined to prosecute Donziger for contempt charges—some of which result from the lawyer's refusal to comply with a court order to turn over his electronic devices containing client information to Chevron—U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan appointed a private law firm to prosecute him and handpicked U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska to preside over the case.

Preska—who is affiliated with the Chevron-funded Federalist Society—denied Donziger's request for a jury trial and in July found him guilty of six counts of criminal contempt of court. Donziger can be sentenced on Friday to at most six months behind bars, only a fraction of the time he has spent confined to his Manhattan home with an ankle monitor on the judge's orders.

"We are calling on Judge Preska to release Steven immediately pending the outcome of his appeal, where we fully expect him to be exonerated," said Garbus, who has previously represented the late South African President Nelson Mandela and American whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

"We also will open up communications with the U.S. government to ensure that the U.N. decision is fully implemented," Garbus added. "At a minimum, that will involve removing Judges Preska and Kaplan, releasing Steven, dismissing the charges, and investigating how this type of corporate abuse of our judicial system could have happened."

Some progressive U.S. lawmakers have suggested that Donziger's case proves a need for urgent reforms regarding the use of private prosecutors. Others have expressed concerns about the "unprecedented nature" of the case and the "deeply concerning" process by which it played out, urging U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch a full investigation.

The Intercept reported Wednesday that Garland has yet to respond to that call while top Democrats including House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler of New York have stayed silent and "harbor close ties to the law firms defending Chevron: chief among them Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, the corporate firm where Nadler's son is an associate."

While neither Chevron nor Gibson Dunn responded to The Intercept's requests for comment, and a spokesperson for Nadler said only that he does not comment on ongoing cases and his son has no role in this one, Donziger called out the congressman.

"Jerry Nadler's silence reflects a sad lack of commitment to human rights protections in the United States of America," Donziger said. "Worse, it appears to be the result of rank hypocrisy: His son works at the same Chevron law firm that has reaped massive fees for attacking me and trying to ruin my life, which is in and of itself a gross human rights violation."

Supporters of Donziger—including his attorneys, musician and activist Roger Waters, and former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson—plan to rally outside a New York City courthouse on Friday at 8:30 am ET ahead of the sentencing.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Omar Leads Charge Against Baby Formula Monopolies Amid US Shortage

Democrats urge the FTC to probe "any unfair or unsustainable practices, like deceptive marketing, price gouging, and stock buybacks, that may be weakening our nutritional formula supply."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Arbitrary, Racist, and Unfair': Judge Blocks Biden From Ending Title 42

"Only the coyotes profiteering off of people seeking protection have reason to celebrate this ill-reasoned ruling," said one migrant rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


'This Is a War' for Democratic Party's Future, Says Sanders of AIPAC's Super PAC

"They are doing everything they can to destroy the progressive movement in this country," said the senator.

Julia Conley ·


Ginni Thomas Pressed Arizona Lawmakers to Reverse Biden's 2020 Win: Report

"Clarence Thomas' continued service on the Supreme Court is a scandalous and appalling breach of judicial ethics," said one observer. "He is implementing the exact same theories that his wife used to try to steal the 2020 election for Trump."

Brett Wilkins ·


Millions More Kids Going Hungry Since GOP, Manchin Killed Expanded Child Tax Credit

"Even brief disruptions in access to food can have lasting consequences," wrote the authors of a new analysis of worsening hunger among U.S. families.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo