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International Labor Organization Concerned With Lack of Indigenous Input on Belo Monte

Continued construction of the Belo Monte dam, a huge and controversial hydroelectric plant on Brazil’s Xingú River raised red flags for a committee of experts from the International Labor Organization (ILO), which called for the country to ensure respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and priorities.

The Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations said the dam could affect indigenous people living in the area and questioned whether Brazil has complied with ILO Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, which calls for consultation of indigenous people about development projects that would affect their territory.

“This is yet another blow against the reputation of the Dilma Rousseff government,” said Christian Poirier, Brazil program director for the non-profit organization Amazon Watch, referring to Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil. “It highlights her government’s ongoing abuse of indigenous rights and negligence in adhering to a treaty to which it is a signatory.”

Brazil ratified Convention 169 in 2002.

The $10 billion, 11,200-megawatt Belo Monte hydroelectric project, which would flood 200 square miles in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, has been the target of local and international protests. Both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Organization of American States have asked Brazil to halt the project.

In a report issued on March 5, the ILO committee of experts said the project could alter “the navigability of rivers, flora and fauna and climate,” affecting “the peoples living on the lands where the project will be located,” even though the government reduced the reservoir size so it would not flood indigenous communities.

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The committee also questioned whether indigenous people were adequately consulted before the project began, as required under Convention 169. “There is no evidence that [the consultation procedures] enabled the Indigenous Peoples to take part effectively in determining their priorities,” the report said.

The committee asked the government to “take the necessary steps to carry out consultations with the Indigenous Peoples affected ... on the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant before the harmful effects of the plant may have become irreversible.”

It also called for officials to take measures, in consultation with indigenous peoples, “to determine whether the priorities of these peoples have been respected and whether their interests will be adversely affected and to what extent, with a view to adopting appropriate mitigation and compensation measures.”

Finally, the committee asked the Brazilian government to report on a pending federal court case over the dam. A series of court decisions has ping-ponged between injunctions suspending construction and rulings overriding the suspension, and observers expect the case to reach the Supreme Court.

Because Brazilian officials argue that the Belo Monte project is vital for the country’s energy security, Poirier doubts the ILO committee’s report will have much impact on the government’s position.

“It is a blow to the credibility of the government of Dilma Rousseff,” he said, “but they’ve proved impervious in the past and will probably prove impervious again.”