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Belo Monte Dam controversy to be part of UN’s Review of Brazil’s Human Rights Record
Geneva, Switzerland. On May 25, the United Nations will examine the Brazilian government’s track record for human rights during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, Switzerland. Central to this debate will be the multiple claims of human rights violations surrounding the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric dam, slated for the Xingu River in Brazil.
Many Brazilian and international groups have already sent extensive documentation to the UN highlighting the human rights violations suffered by the indigenous and rural communities in the dam’s path. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will present information from these and other reports as part of the review or the Brazilian government’s performance on its human rights obligations.
Key to the controversy over the dam will be the lack of compliance with an April 2011 resolution from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an international human rights body of the Organization of American States. The Commission requested that the government halt the project and take steps to protect indigenous communities, including un-contacted tribes in voluntary isolation.
Up until now, the Brazilian government has refused to either implement the IACHR’s resolution or dialogue with affected communities in the case.
Two civil society reports sent by a coalition of Brazilian and international groups last November highlighted these and other problems with Brazil’s contentious hydroelectric project. The report concludes that the government did not consult with affected communities nor obtain their free, prior, and informed consent, as required by international human rights law. It also documents violations to the rights to life and health, and the possible forced displacement of nearly 40 thousand families.
The two reports form part of a growing body of allegations regarding human rights violations related to the Brazilian government’s plans to push the construction of large dams in the Amazon region.
“We hope that as a result of the UPR, the Brazilian government will take a hard look at the damage that its energy and hydropower policies are causing for the rights of indigenous and traditional peoples,” stated Astrid Puentes, Co-director of the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), which co-authored the reports. “Brazil has a great opportunity to change its development model toward one that is truly sustainable and respects human rights.”
According to Andressa Caldas, Director of the Brazilian human rights NGO, Global Justice, Belo Monte is now synonymous with violations of indigenous peoples’ rights and environmental irresponsibility. “The Brazilian government will have to respond to these allegations and is already expanding its delegation for the UPR with experts specifically to defend the Belo Monte dam. But there is no way to justify such an absurd project.”
What is the UPR?
The Universal Periodic Review is a proceeding in which all UN nations are reviewed every four years by the UN Human Rights Council, which is made up of representatives from different countries. During the process each country is given the opportunity to demonstrate the steps it has taken to improve the human rights situation and meet its obligations under international law.