Skip to main content

Brazil Takes Another Step Towards Belo Monte While Activists Step up the Fight

The Brazilian government has ignored legal challenges from two of it’s own agencies, national and international protests, and requests from an international human rights court to halt production on the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam due to it’s failure to comply with an international law requiring prior consultation with the affected indigenous communities. Brazilian officials have gone as far as preventing a distinguished Brazilian indigenous advocate from attending a recent United Nations event due to her opposition, but the fight over the legality of the process is not over and has gone to another international forum.

While these events are playing out President Dilma Rousseff has simultaneously unveiled an ambitious anti-poverty program called “Brazil Without Misery” which seeks to lift over 16 million Brazilians out of severe poverty, while pushing the Belo Monte project which, according to many observers, will displace at least 20,000 people and ruin the livelihoods of approximately 40,000 mostly indigenous Brazilians.

The Brazilian Government’s Environmental Agency (IBAMA) announced on June 1s that it had issued the full installation license for construction of Belo Monte to Norte Energia (NESA), the dam building consortium that had, according to prior IBAMA findings, still not complied with various social and environmental conditions required for an installation license.

Two days later, on June 3rd a group of Brazilian human rights organizations filed an official request with the United Nations Human Rights Council to address concerns they had with the building of the Belo Monte Dam.

In a joint press statement Global Justice Brazil, the Para Society of Defense of Human Rights (SDDH) and Conectas Human Rights said, “they are expressing their concern in relation to the attitude of the Brazilian government towards the precautionary measures issued by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR ) of the Organization of American States, in April, to suspend construction until the rights to prior, free and informed consultation of the indigenous peoples were met.”

In April of this year the IACHR issued a precautionary measures order, requesting that construction of the Belo Monte project be suspended until indigenous communities had a chance for prior consultation.

The matter is on the Council’s agenda for the 17th session in Geneva this year, and the activists are hoping that the UN Council will take into account several points.

“The Brazilian government is systematically ignoring warnings from the scientific community, organized civil society, environmentalists, river communities, indigenous peoples, the Public Ministry and human rights organizations,” said Roberta Amanajas, spokesperson for SDDH. “With the issuance of the installation license, Brazil is now going over the heads of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, which is the principal defender of human rights of the Americas. How can a country defend its positions on the strengthening of multilateral entities of consensus on human rights, when it itself is systematically violating them, as with the case of Belo Monte?”

In the same press statement the group asserted that the Belo Monte project would affect the lives of at least 24 indigenous peoples, cause forced displacement and create food and water insecurities that would also lead to an increase in disease. They also noted that the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues, James Anaya, had expressed his concern over the lack of consultation with indigenous peoples in his visits in both 2009 and 2010.

It was this lack of consultation that was one of the main points that the noted activist, Azelene Kaingang, had hoped to address at the recent UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in May. Kaingang is a sociologist and has participated at the Forum, was a co-chair of the OAS Indigenous Caucus and has been an official of Brazil’s own National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) for several years. A few days before leaving for the event Kaingang was informed that she would not be sent to attend the forum. In an interview on June 6, she explained why FUNAI had prevented her attendance and why she opposes the construction of the Belo Monte dam.

“FUNAI is an agency of a government,” Kaingang stated, “that is afraid of the truth…that doesn’t want to see the truth about Belo Monte and my participation at the event was focused on participating in events at the United Nations that denounced the construction of the dam and on its consequences.”

“I oppose this,” she continued, “because the Brazilian state is violating a major component of the International Covenant on Labor, which states that indigenous people have the right to prior consultation when affected by this type of project. I oppose this because I am indigenous, because I oppose the violence committed against indigenous peoples… I oppose this because the indigenous peoples are part of the Brazilian state and as such they want to be duly consulted and participate in the process of development of the country, which is also ours. I oppose this because it puts at risk the lives and cultures of indigenous peoples, along with the fact that it will cause unprecedented environmental destruction.”

Kaingang also noted that it was ironic “without a doubt” that while the government starts its Brazil Without Misery campaign “…it is making indigenous people poor by forcing them off of their land and their traditional ways of life.”

In the meantime, a few days after the Kaingang interview, Brazil's Federal Public Prosecutor (MPF) filed its 11th civil action lawsuit against the Belo Monte project, demanding immediate suspension of the installation license due to non-compliance with a series of social and environmental safeguards that IBAMA itself had stipulated as prerequisites for dam construction to commence.