Brazil must respond to human rights violations caused by the Belo Monte Dam
Photo: Maíra Iragaray / Amazon Watch.
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2 May 2018
In representation of communities affected by the Belo Monte Dam, we have submitted final arguments in the case against Brazil before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The report presents scientific evidence of the forced displacement of indigenous and traditional communities, the mass die-off of fish, differentiated harms to men and women, and threats to the survival of local communities in the Brazilian Amazon.
Washington, DC, United States and Altamira, Brazil. Furthering the formal complaint against the State of Brazil for human rights violations caused by the construction of the Belo Monte Dam, organizations representing affected communities presented their final arguments before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They demonstrate the damages Belo Monte has caused to indigenous and traditional communities, and residents of Altamira, the city closest to the dam.
“Human rights violations are a daily occurence for those affected by the dam, so it’s urgent that our petition before the Commission advance to sanction the government and guarantee our rights,” proclaimed Antônia Melo, coordinator of the Movimiento Xingu Vivo para Siempre, a citizens’ collective formed in the face of the dam’s implementation.
The report presented before the Commission shows that the damages resulted from a severe lack of foresight and inadequate evaluation, as well as from failure to comply with the conditions for operation established by the government.
The many risks denounced prior to the dam’s construction have since become long-term damages—many of which have affected men and women, and youth and the elderly, in different ways.
“This report is a vital step forward for the people of the Xingu River basin, who are now closer than ever to achieving justice, forcing Brazil to respond to the violations committed, and ensuring that what happened on the Xingu never happens again,” said Astrid Puentes Riaño, co-director of the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). Together with the Paraense Society for Human Rights (SDDH) and Justiça Global, AIDA represents the affected communities before the Commission.
The report also documents the displacement of indigenous and traditional communities forced to leave their territories without adequate alternatives, placing their cultural survival at risk.
Among the affected populations are communities dedicated to fishing, who have not yet been compensated for the loss of livelihood. The dam has caused mass die-offs of fish and, although authorities have imposed millions in fines, the report demonstrates that the underlying problem has not been resolved. Local communities now have limited use of the Xingu River as a source of food, sustenance, transportation and entertainment.
The report also documents—among other serious harms—the disappearance of traditional trades, such as brickmakers and cart drivers, and of traditional cultural practices. Women, for example, have stopped giving birth in their homes and must now go to a hospital, a reality that has drastically worsened due to the oversaturation of health and education services in Altamira caused by the recent population surge.
The complaint against Brazil was presented before the Commission in 2011, the year the international organism granted protective measures to indigenous people affected by the dam’s construction. The case against Brazil officially opened in December 2015.
Then, last October, in a rare move designed to speed up the processing of the case, the Commission decided to unite two stages that, as a rule, are normally processed separately. Under this framework, the organizations and the State are required to present their final arguments, after which the Commission will make a decision.
“We hope the Commission refers the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as soon as possible, and that it recommends Brazil adopt the measures necessary to protect the life, integrity, and right to property of the indigenous and traditional communities affected by the dam,” said Raphaela Lopes, attorney at Justiça Global.
“After being subject to all forms of rights violations, starting from the very beginning of this project, these communities need integral reparation; their right to free, prior and informed consent was not honored.”
The Commission must now prepare a report to conclude whether or not human rights violations occurred as a result of the Belo Monte Dam, in which it may issue recommendations for remediation. If those recommendations are unfulfilled, the case may be referred to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which has the power to issue a ruling condemning Brazil.
Belo Monte has been in operation since early 2015, though a series of judicial suspensions resulting from non-compliance with its permits means that construction has yet to be completed.
Although Belo Monte has caused great harm to the people of the Xingu, Brazil now has an opportunity to avoid inflicting more damage and begin making efforts to better their quality of life. For that to happen, a prompt decision by the Commission is vital.