Ted Folkman at Letters Blogatory posted a rather dismissive take on a recent letter I signed to the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders (now on Twitter!) on the situations facing the human rights defenders in the Chevron/Ecuador case. My response below (also published by Ted).
I’ll briefly respond to one point and add one observation.
As someone who watched things unfold, I can say that Ted’s speculative claim that “the reason Chevron’s threats were so potent was because there was some underlying wrongdoing that made Patton Boggs and the others perceive a serious risk of liability” is wrong. It is true, as he says, that some “allies” like Burford were “spooked,” in the sense that as soon as they heard Chevron’s allegations they starting looking for the exit (including, in Burford’s case, by coordinating with Chevron behind their own clients’ backs). Others were the victims of flat-out, unapologetic economic extortion campaigns, such as folks from Stratus Consulting, the company that Chevron brought to its knees by crushing it with litigation, intervening in a dispute with its litigation insurer to make sure the insurer would not cover the litigation expenses, and sending smear-campaign letters to Stratus’ other clients. (How we all tolerate this kind of conduct as just “part of the game” is beyond me.) But allies who took the time to unpack Chevron’s allegations and really understand the facts did not end up abandoning ship.
Ted thinks Patton Boggs is an example of someone “spooked” on the facts, like Burford, or a victim of extortion, like Stratus. Not so. In reality, there were two Patton Boggs—the team that actually worked on the case and understood it, and the rest of the firm that couldn’t care less (and was reportedly mystified at how the firm ended up going up against a wealthy corporation like Chevron in the first place). A great untold story in this case is the heroism of the Patton Boggs team on the case. These men and women worked like dogs, for years, long past when there was any money coming in or any prospect of money. They faced constant attacks not just from Chevron but from corporate apologists in their own firm. And they never gave up on their clients. The larger firm settled with Chevron without telling them, to salvage a merger that was driven by economic considerations far beyond the Chevron case. The team that worked on the case was forced out of the firm in the process. Yet to this day they are proud of what they did and they should be.
Now my observation. Ted’s approach to the human rights perspective here—basically, encouraging “askance” as to whether the Ecuadorian case defenders should really be defended in light of the charges made against them by the very opponent the defenders are resisting—is exactly why the whole “human rights defender” and “environmental defender” movement, despite overflowing attention in the last few decades, is often considered weak at best. A recent report tallied 156 human rights defenders killed in 2015, with numbers of killings and harassment increasing year by year. Members of our team in Ecuador have braved anonymous death threats and other forms of harassment for literally decades. Continue reading