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Belo Monte: Fueling Our Fight for Justice

By María José Veramendi Villa

Even as the turbines of the Belo Monte Dam have begun turning, the fight for justice continues. The ongoing operation of the world’s third largest dam—corrupt and careless as it is—cannot stop us.

In fact, each new allegation of corruption and abuse only fuels our desire for justice for those who have been affected by the dam.

And our most important battle is now strongly underway: our case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which opened for processing at the close of last year. 

In it, we’re working to hold Brazil accountable for the countless human rights violations that have been committed in the name of the Belo Monte dam: the absence of consultation with and free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities; the lack of adequate assessment of environmental and social impacts; forced displacement; and severe violations to the rights of indigenous peoples, riverine communities and residents of Altamira.

We’re in the process of getting the case admitted before the Commission, so they can establish—as an independent, international body—if these violations occurred and whether the State must respond for them.

As part of the process, Brazil had to respond to our allegations before the Commission. We received their response on August 9 and have just submitted our legal submission to counter their claims. 

We need to ensure Commission understands the importance of their role in investigating the human rights abuses that have been suffered due to Belo Monte.

Even as I write this, the State and dam operators continue to blatantly disregard the human rights of the people of the Xingu River basin, living in the dam’s shadow.

On September 1, for instance, the dam’s operating license was suspended yet again because sanitation systems in the city of Altamira—a legal obligation operators were required to meet long ago—were never installed.

Wastewater still floods the streets of Altamira, and threatens to turn Belo Monte’s reservoir into a stagnant pool of sewage.

Unfortunately, as with many legal decisions attempting to protect the rights of those affected, the suspension was overturned a few weeks later.

It’s clear the forces behind Belo Monte have no respect for the environment in which they’re working, and even less for the local people who depend upon the river and forests for their survival.

Many of the people we represent live in the neighborhoods of Altamira, and are exposed to raw sewage. Those who live outside the city have been displaced from their land, cut off from their primary water source, or have had their way of life destroyed. 

We must ensure the Brazilian State is held accountable for the immense environmental and social damage the dam has caused.

Rest assured, we won’t stop until we achieve justice for the people of the Xingú.