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The United Nations Has Found Steven Donziger’s House Arrest To Be In Violation Of International Law

The world’s leading human rights legal entity has recently given Steven Donziger, the attorney who won a historic multibillion-dollar case against an oil corporation over pollution in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, critical backing. The decision was issued on the eve of his sentencing in a criminal trial.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights decided on Wednesday that Donziger’s house imprisonment is unlawful under international law and demanded that the US release him. Donziger will have spent a record 787 days on house arrest as of Friday in one of the most complicated and tumultuous court cases involving Chevron and hundreds of Indigenous people in the Amazon.

Donziger launched a case against the oil corporation on behalf of 30,000 Indigenous people and peasant farmers in the Amazon for causing industrial contamination that has been dubbed the Amazon’s Chernobyl. He obtained a $9.5 billion verdict against the energy company in Ecuadorian courts in 2013, making it the biggest human rights and environmental court award in history. Chevron, on the other hand, refused to pay and instead focused on suing the attorney. In 2019, he was sentenced to home detention by a judge with a favorable reputation in the energy sector who was cherry-picked ​to preside over the proceedings. Donziger was placed under house arrest throughout the trial before being found in contempt of court.

The attorney now faces up to six months in prison for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to turn over his phone, laptop, and other electronic equipment to Chevron, on top of the two-plus years he’s already spent on house arrest. (According to Donziger, compliance would have violated his clients’ privacy rights.)

“The Working Group is appalled by the uncontested allegations in this case,” six international jurists said in the 15-page assessment that served as the foundation for the UN statement. “The charges and detention of Mr. Donziger appear to be retaliation for his work as a legal representative of indigenous communities, as he refused to disclose confidential correspondence with his clients in a high-profile case against a multinational business enterprise.”

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