Brazil's Federal Regional Tribunal of the First Region, the highest court of appeals in the country, ordered an immediate halt to all construction of the controversial Belo Monte Dam due to the lack of prior consultation of Indigenous Peoples affected by the massive hydroelectric project.
The Court made its unanimous decision on August 14th, upholding an earlier decision made in 2005 that said the Brazilian Congress had illegally authorized the project.
According to various sources the authorization of the Belo Monte project violated both the Brazilian Constitution and the International Labor Organization Convention 169, to which Brazil is a signatory, by not consulting with the indigenous communities or acquiring an independent environmental impact study before starting the project.
"The court's decision highlights the urgent need for the Brazilian government and Congress to respect the federal constitution and international agreements on prior consultations with Indigenous Peoples regarding projects that put their livelihoods and territories at risk. Human rights and environmental protection cannot be subordinated to narrow business interests," stated Federal Judge Souza Prudente, who authored the ruling.
"We are not fighting the project of the government," Judge Prudente continued, "but it cannot be a dictatorial process. The Congress will have to correct its act...we only want to guarantee the rights of these populations."
The Consortium in charge of building the massive project, Norte Energia, faces a $250,000 per day fine if they do not comply with the judicial order. It is expected that Norte Energia will appeal the decision to the Brazilian Supreme Court.
While the project has been halted for now, activists and anti-Belo Monte protestors are watching anxiously for new developments.
"This latest court ruling vindicates what indigenous people, human rights activists and the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office have been demanding all along. We hope that President Dilma [Rousseff]'s Attorney General and the head judge of the federal court (TRF1) will not try to subvert this important decision, as they have done in similar situations in the past," said Brent Millikan of International Rivers, based in Brasilia.
Since the project started, Indigenous Peoples as well as human rights and environmental organizations such as International Rivers, Amazon Watch and Xingu Vivo have been staging protests. Some of the latest actions included a 21-day occupation of the site in late June and then in July, indigenous activists detained three of the builder's engineers.
One of the leaders of the site occupation, Sheyla Juruna of the Juruna indigenous community, was quoted at the time as saying, "The Brazilian government is killing the Xingu River and destroying the lives of Indigenous Peoples. We need to send a message that we have not been silenced and that this is our territory. We vow to take action in our own way to stop the Belo Monte Dam. We will defend our river until the end!"