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Experts: Donziger’s Fraud Hurts Human Rights Cause

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Steven Donziger and his team like to don the mantle of human rights campaigners in an attempt to legitimize their misconduct. But leading experts say their wrongdoing has only served to undermine the very cause they claim to defend.

The fraudulent acts committed by Donziger and his team are numerous and wide-ranging, including ghost-writing court reports, bribing judges and fabricating evidence.

U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote in his 2014 RICO judgment that “even if Donziger and his clients had a just cause… they were not entitled to corrupt the process to achieve their goal.” He continued: “Justice is not served by inflicting injustice. The ends do not justify the means. There is no ‘Robin Hood’ defense to illegal and wrongful conduct.”

The same goes for human rights. Donziger’s claim that he is seeking to rectify alleged human rights abuses doesn’t entitle him to resort to fraud to achieve his purported goals. In fact, many in the human rights community are saying exactly that.

In an amicus brief filed in support of Chevron, a group of international human rights and anti-corruption experts, including former presidents of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a former president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and other prominent jurists, stated:

  • “Advocates for human rights do not advance human rights by violating them, and the corrupt pattern of fraud, extortion, and bribery described by the District Court, if accurate, denies the fundamental human rights to due process of law and a fair trial.”
  • “Advocates for human rights, including (perhaps especially) those sympathetic to the claims of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, should not condone the misconduct the District Court found occurred here.”
  • “Appellants’ contention, that judicial review of their conduct of the Ecuadorian litigation is a distraction from the Ecuadorian plaintiffs’ claims for relief, implies that corrupt means are justified in order to obtain a court decision that ostensibly protects the human rights of those on whose behalf those means are employed. That notion is backwards: Corrupting a court to obtain a result favorable to human rights ends by undermining human rights.”

Attempts by Donziger and his team to suggest that their misconduct was done in the name of human rights have also drawn criticism from noted academic and human rights expert Douglass Cassel, who stated:

  • “To place a con man like Donziger in the company of honest human rights defenders, then, does a disservice to all those who risk their lives honourably in the service of human dignity.”
  • “Overlooking or excusing Donziger’s fraud also misses a key lesson of the Ecuador litigation: all human rights defenders have a stake in calling out purported human rights lawyers who cross the line from aggressive advocacy to unethical conduct.
  • “Precisely because the outcomes matter so much for those they defend, human rights defenders must strive to meet the highest standards of ethical conduct.”

In their amicus brief, the international jurists raised another concerning element: the corruption in the Ecuadorian judicial system that enabled much of Donziger’s scheme itself poses a threat to the human rights of citizens there. As they put it:

  • “These developments confirm the consensus in the international community that corruption, particularly in the judiciary, jeopardizes human rights and that this threat is a present danger today…. for if the Court’s findings are true in whole or substantial part, they reveal a pattern of corruption the international community—including both the United States and Ecuador—is committed to combat and redress exactly because it strikes at the heart of human rights.”

The offenses committed by Donziger and his team are an insult to the community that fights every day to defend human rights.


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