Secret Tribunal Threatens the Environment

by Global

For 18 years, Amazonian indigenous people have fought tirelessly to get Chevron to clean up horrific toxic contamination in a swath of Ecuador the size of Rhode Island.  Finally last year, justice prevailed: an Ecuadorian appeals court reaffirmed that Chevron had to pay $18 billion to clean up the disaster and take care of tens of thousands of people suffering devastating health problems.

Chevron Trades in Evading Justice

Having lost in both Ecuadorian and U.S. courts, and after almost two decades of stalling tactics, Chevron turned to an ad hoc “investor-state” tribunal of three private lawyers to try to evade justice. (This is the same lunatic tribunal system included in the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA].)

Chevron asked these three random lawyers to suspend enforcement of or alter the $18 billion judgment against Chevron — a judgment rendered and reaffirmed by a sovereign country’s court system.

Even though this corporate tribunal has not even decided if it has jurisdiction over the case, it ordered Ecuador’s government to interfere with its independent courts.

Like the U.S., Ecuador’s constitution has a strict separation of powers, so this is like a tribunal of three corporate lawyers ordering President Obama to somehow make the U.S. Supreme Court reverse one of its rulings.

Justice is Not Served

Corporate attacks in these ad hoc investor-state tribunals are a rapidly spreading cancer killing justice.

Renco, a company that owns a toxic metal smelter in Peru, has been pushing to water down or delay its environmental clean-up obligations. The company, who is advised by the same law firm as Chevron, launched an investor-state case against Peru in late 2010. According to the latest news reports, the mere threat of this case may have chilled the Peruvian government into giving Renco what it wants, while the local community continues to suffer from disease.

These cases highlight the outrageousness of the slew of extreme investor rights and protections and special private investor-state enforcement afforded to corporations since NAFTA. Such special privileges have been replicated in a number of trade deals, including the recently passed deals with Korea, Colombia and Panama.

Given the growing threat of this lunatic system, you’d think at a minimum it would not be further expanded. But disgustingly, U.S. trade negotiators are now pushing for this very regime to be included in the prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal — a deal which could include literally half the world.

How Do These Trade Pacts Benefit the 1%?

Foreign firms can attack domestic public interest, environmental, land use and other laws if they feel that such policies undermine the firm’s “expected future profits.” And by attack, we mean they can sue national governments before foreign tribunals set up under UN and World Bank rules. There, private sector lawyers who alternate between being the “judge” and representing the corporations are empowered to order sovereign governments to pay unlimited damages out of our tax dollars!

More than $350 million has been paid by governments to corporations in attacks on toxic bans, environmental issues and zoning permits under NAFTA-style trade deals. Billions in additional claims are pending.

It’s time to get informed about one of the most controversial issues being negotiated in the TPP before it’s too late.  Φ

Beatriz and Brooke are Senior Field Organizers for the Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

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