OPEN LETTER TO THE XLVII GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES (OAS): “STRENGTHENING DIALOGUE AND CONCERTATION FOR PROSPERITY”

Cancun, Mexico, June 19 to 21, 2017.- As organizations of civil society who work on the frontlines for the defense and promotion of human rights on the continent, we are concerned about a the nomination of Douglass Cassel as a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (from here on, the IACHR). While we recognize Dr. Cassel’s long academic trajectory, we do not consider him to have the “high moral character” established in the Regulations of the IACHR, which should be required of any person who wishes to be part of the main human rights institution of the continent.

In many of our battles for the defense of human rights, the IACHR is the ultimate and only institution to which we can turn. We are alarmed that our last hope for obtaining justice falls in the hands of a person who, in one of the most emblematic cases in the world concerning the defense of human rights violated by corporations, has not had the integrity to stand with justice and the victims. In the trial pursued by Ecuadorian Amazonian communities against Chevron Corporation, Douglass Cassel accepted the position of defense lawyer for the company in exchange for a sum of money that has never been disclosed, despite various petitions.

For 24 years the indigenous and rural communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon have fought in court for the reparation and restoration of their human, collective and environmental rights, as well as the rights of nature, violated by the petroleum operations of Texaco (now Chevron). To obtain the first sentence regarding the environmental, social and cultural crime committed by Chevron in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon, the indigenous and non-indigenous Ecuadorians had to wait 17 years. To achieve that Chevron complies with the legitimate legal sentence, issued five years ago in the judicial system selected by Chevron, the plaintiffs continue to fight, taking their case to various foreign courts to enforce the judgement. Chevron, far from complying with the legitimate court order, has opted to not recognize the court ruling and to perpetuate the environmental, social and cultural crime it generated over 50 years ago. It is this oil company that Dr. Cassel defends—Dr. Cassel who now wants to be a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Chevron, on the other hand, Cassel has defended in the most aggressive manner possible, pledging to the plaintiffs, “We’re going to fight this until hell freezes over. And then we’ll fight it out on the ice.” [1] The oil company has utilized its enormous economic power and political lobbying to ensure the crime committed in the Amazon remains unpunished. The transnational corporation has pressured governments for favor in the judicial process and has spent near one billion dollars on the defense of the case. Chevron has contracted a military of two thousand defense lawyers for the trial. This case exemplifies the inability of the law to access justice for communities in developing countries who confront large transnational corporations.

In this context of inequality, in which marginalized communities whose rights have been violated fight to obtain justice before one of the largest companies in the world, Douglas Cassel has accepted the position of lawyer and advisor for Chevron. Dr. Cassel would work, as a representative of the company, with all international human rights organizations to which plaintiff communities turn. These acts conflict with an academic position, which demands objectivity.

The previously stated is corroborated when Dr. Cassel, as a “human rights” lawyer, repeats, supports and defends the arguments used by the oil company without raising any questioning. Employing arguments that were used by the tobacco industry for its defense, such as the argument that cigarettes do not damage health, Cassel questions the lawsuit of the Ecuadorians affected by Chevron, claiming there is no evidence that the toxins dumped by the oil industry cause illness. In fact, in one document produced by him he states: “the legal team of the plaintiffs has not presented credible scientific evidence, not even of particular cases of cancer caused by oil pollution, much less of a public health catastrophe.” [2] Cassel dismisses all available information that demonstrates the existence of grave health problems in populations of the zones operated by Chevron and that demonstrates that the health problems are the result of the environmental contamination caused by poor practices by the oil company.

This position is contrary to the IACHR, to which Cassel claims to be a member. Members of this international organization, after a visit realized in 1994 (just one year after Texaco left Ecuador), confirmed in their report that:

“It has been amply documented that exposure to petroleum and the chemical compounds linked to petroleum via the skin, via ingestion by food or water, or via the emanations absorbed by the respiratory system cause adverse effects for human health and life. In the case before us, the data collected attests to the considerable risk to human life and health represented by oil exploitation activities in the Ecuadorian Amazon.” [3]

It is noteworthy that Cassel, a lawyer who supposedly defends human rights, turns to arguments from corporate law and supports Chevron’s approach of evading its responsibility for damages in the Ecuadorian Amazon [4] and hiding in a complex corporate structure to defend its capital. In asserting that Chevron never operated in Ecuador and that the tried is Texaco, he assumes that the merger between the two companies in 2001 left out of the agreement the responsibility for the pollution and its subsequent impacts. To block justice and the recognition, exercise and reestablishment of human rights, under the argument that Chevron and Texaco are two legal entities, although in practice the company stock package is one, could be expected from a lawyer of a private investment protection court but not from someone who professes to be a member of the principal inter-American human rights defense court. It is a fact that Cassel not only approves but also defends the legitimacy of a private international arbitration process that undermines fundamental human rights, contrary to our experience and the growing academic literature on this subject.

The position of Cassel, in favor of the company and not the people whose fundamental rights have been harmed, puts in doubt his suitability for the most important human rights organization of the region. In a continent where the violations of fundamental rights committed by companies continue to increase, it is necessary to count on an IACHR whose members apply the pro homine principle and who do not represent the interests of large corporations.

Someone who lacks sufficient sensitivity to commiserate with the difficult situation lived by thousands of victims of human rights violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon and who fails to understand how complicated it is for small communities to launch judicial battles against large corporations does not deserve to be part of an organization whose principal function is “to promote the observance and protection of human rights” of the continent.

Quito, May 3, 2017

NOMBRE DE PERSONA Y/U ORGANIZACIÓN CARGO O DIGNIDAD PAÍS
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel Premio Nobel de la Paz
Acción Ecológica Ecuador
Alcorta A. Mariano Delegado Sindical en la Empresa Konecta SAT Españá
Ambiente y Sociedad Colombia
Asamblea Veracruzana de Iniciativas y Defensa Ambiental – LAVIDA  Mexico
Asociación Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM) Guatemala
Asociación Nacional de Industriales de Transformación. ANIT México
Asociación de Abogados/as de Derecho Indígena  Argentina
Alianza Mexicana contra el Fraking México
Alianza Global por la Justicia Fiscal Regional
Antonio Carlos Magalhães  antropólogo, pesquisador aposentado Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi  Brasil
Centro de Derechos Económicos y Sociales (CDES) Ecuador
Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos “Segundo Montes Mozo S.J.” (CSMM) Ecuador
francés: Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (CDHAL)español: Comité por los Derechos Humanos en América Latina (CDHAL)

inglés: Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL)

 

Canadá
Conaie Ecuador
Centro de Estudios para la Justicia Social TIERRA DIGNA Colombia
FASE Bahia Brasil
FASE – Solidariedade e Educação, Brasil Brasil
FOCOForo Ciudadano de Participación

por la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos

 

Argentina
“FÓRUM MUDANÇAS CLIMÁTICAS E JUSTIÇA SOCIAL” Brasil
FENOCOPRE, por la Coordinadora Nacional del ISP Ecuador
 Fronteras Comunes  Canadá
Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos (Inredh).  Ecuador
Fundación para la Cooperación APY- Solidaridad en Acción Estado español
Global Exchange Estados Unidos
Grupo de Pesquisa CNPQ/UFPA, Sociedades, Ambiente, Ação Pública.  Brasil
Homa – Centro de Direitos Humanos e Empresas da UFJF Brasil
Instituto de Estudios Socio-económicos (INESC) Brasil
Instituto de estudios ambiental  del tercer mundo Ecuador
Instituto Terramar Brasil
Instituto Políticas Alternativas para o Cone Sul – PACS (Rio de Janeiro Brasil
Internacional de Servicios  Públicos –ISP Ecuador
Jóeci lopes Miranda Brasil
LATINDAD Regional
La Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos CNDH-RD  República Dominicana
Libres- Liga Brasil de Responsabilidade­ Socioambiental Brasil
MAB ( movimiento de afectados por Represa Brasil) Brasil
Media Alliance Estados Unidos
Observatorio Petrolero Sur Argentina
O FAOR – Fórum da Amazônia Orienta Brasil
Paul-Emile Dupret, Jurista, Parlamento europeo, Grupo GUE/NGL
Plataforma Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo (PIDHDD Regional) Ecuador
Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad Guatemala/Suiza
Proyecto sobre Organización Desarrollo, Educación e Investigación (PODER) México
Red de Justicia Fiscal Ecuador
Rede brasileira de Justiça ambiental Brasil
Red Latinoamericana sobre Industrias Extractivas (RLIE) Regional
SERPAJ, Servicio Paz y Justicia Argentina
Sonia Magalhães, antropóloga, professora na Universidade Federal do Pará   Brasil
Unión de Afectados por las Operaciones de Texaco. UDAPT Ecuador

[1] John Otis, Chevron vs. Ecuadorean Activists, The Global Post, May 3, 2009, disponible en: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/the-americas/090429/chevron-ecuador?page=0,2#.

[1] Translated from Spanish June 2, 2017. Original quote: “el equipo legal de los demandantes no ha presentado evidencia científica creíble, ni siquiera de casos particulares de cáncer causados por contaminación por petróleo, menos aún de una catástrofe de salud pública.”

[1] Translated from Spanish June 2, 2017. Original quote: “Se ha documentado ampliamente que la exposición al petróleo y a los compuestos químicos vinculados al mismo petróleo a través de la piel, por ingestión en los alimentos o el agua, o bien en las emanaciones absorbidas por el aparato respiratorio, provoca efectos nocivos para la salud y la vida del ser humano. En el caso que nos ocupa, los datos recogidos dan fe del riesgo considerable para la vida y la salud humana que representan las actividades de explotación petrolera en el Oriente.”

[4] In one of his documents Cassel, with the end of minimizing the responsibility of Chevron, stated that the company “never had worked in oil drilling or extraction activities in Ecuador. In 2001 a Chevron subsidiary merged with Texaco and acquired its subsidiary, Texaco Petroleum Company (“TexPet”), which until 1990 had been the operator and minority shareholder in a consortium with the Ecuadorian state oil company in the Amazon basin.” [5] For us it is unprecedented that only one company be held liable for the violations of fundamental rights, arguing that the companies are different legal entities, when in practice the stockholding of the companies is one entity.

[5] Translated from Spanish June 2, 2017. Original quote: “nunca ha trabajado en actividades de perforación o extracción petrolera en el Ecuador. En el 2001 una subsidiaria de Chevron se fusionó con Texaco y adquirió su subsidiaria, Texaco Petroleum Company (“TexPet”), la misma que hasta 1990 había sido la operadora y accionista minoritaria en un consorcio con la compañía estatal petrolera ecuatoriana en la cuenca amazónica.”

Posted on junio 6, 2017 in Blog

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