The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Paul Paz y Miño:

Amazon Watch and Amnesty International Join Group of 50 NGOs Urging President Biden to Pardon Human Rights Lawyer Steven Donziger

Groups urge Biden to follow recommendation by the U.N. to launch an investigation into the reasons that triggered Mr. Donziger’s arbitrary detention

Fifty environmental and human rights organizations, including Amazon Watch and Amnesty International, have sent a letter to President Biden urging him to pardon U.S. human rights lawyer Steven Donziger after Chevron targeted him with the nation’s first private corporate prosecution.

Mr. Donziger’s case has attracted international outrage due to his prolonged and unjust detention after helping Amazon communities in Ecuador hold Chevron accountable for massive pollution that decimated their ancestral lands. The Supreme Courts of two countries – Ecuador and Canada – have confirmed the validity of the landmark $10 billion verdict against the oil giant.

Donziger was subjected to nearly three years of arbitrary detention in New York on a Class B misdemeanor contempt charge, the lowest possible federal offense, after he appealed an unprecedented order he turn over his computer and confidential case file to Chevron. The contempt charges, filed by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, were rejected by the regular federal prosecutor.

Donziger’s prosecution and detention has been condemned by respected jurists, including the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD). The WGAD found Mr. Donziger’s detention to be illegal and “arbitrary” under international law. Three U.S. federal judges, including two Supreme Court justices, have condemned the prosecution as unconstitutional.

Despite previous appeals and significant concern expressed by the WGAD over two years ago, the U.S. government has not responded, and Mr. Donziger’s situation has only worsened. Chevron continues its aggressive legal and public relations attacks, highlighting the urgent need for intervention to correct this injustice.

“Our renewed calls for a pardon for Mr. Donziger and compliance with the WGAD include a request for a comprehensive investigation into Chevron’s illegal and abusive retaliation campaign,” the letter states. “As a result of Chevron’s failure to clean up its pollution, Amazon Indigenous and farmer communities continue to face imminent risk.”

U.S. Representative Jim McGovern emphasized the broader implications: “This is about more than a court case – it’s about sending a message that corporate polluters need to be held accountable for breaking the law, and that they shouldn’t be allowed to harass and intimidate those who seek justice.”

The letter urges President Biden to issue a pardon and to launch an investigation into Chevron’s retaliation campaign. A pardon would assert the executive branch’s intolerance for judicial overreach influenced by corporate interests and reinforce the U.S. commitment to international human rights standards, according to the letter.

“A pardon for Mr. Donziger will send a clear message that corporations in the U.S. cannot misuse the judicial system to criminalize human rights defenders,” said Paul Paz y Miño, Amazon Watch Deputy Director. “The Biden administration must protect the rights of human rights defenders like Mr. Donziger and ensure accountability for corporate polluters.”

Among the other organizations signing are Greenpeace, Food & Water Watch, Rainforest Action Network, Mighty Earth, Public Citizen, and Sunrise Movement.

Amazon Watch is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. We partner with indigenous and environmental organizations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability and the preservation of the Amazon's ecological systems.