Belo Monte Dam May Lead Brazil to OAS High Court

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Local communities and NGOs deliver petition exposing human rights violations to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Brasilia, Brazil – Local communities and NGOs delivered a petition to the Organization of American States' (OAS) human rights body today claiming that Brazil has steamrolled human rights in its rush to fast-track construction of the controversial Belo Monte Dam, slated for construction on the Xingu River in the Amazon interior. The petition, signed by representatives of indigenous communities and other populations threatened by the dam, denounced the Brazilian government and called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to declare human rights violations, and order the Brazilian government to cancel the project and pay damages.

Two weeks ago the Brazilian government defied IACHR's demand that Brazil halt the dam's licensing process. Brazil instead granted Belo Monte's installation license, clearing the way to commence construction despite blatant non-compliance with social and environmental protections.

Petition-signers scrutinized illegal aspects of the dam's licensing process, especially with regard to the rights of indigenous peoples living along the Big Bend of the Xingu River, where 80% of the river's flow would be diverted to an artificial reservoir, undermining livelihoods and potentially leading to the forced displacement of thousands of people in clear violation of Brazil's Constitution and international law.

NGO and legal groups expect the Commission to determine that the Brazilian government has violated the rights of local peoples, and will recommend compensation. If the government continues to ignore the IACHR, the case could go to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which could formally condemn the Brazilian government for violations of its international obligations.

The petition delivery today follows an initial complaint submitted last November that led to the granting of "precautionary measures" by the IACHR in April 2011. These measures recommended to the Brazilian government that urgent action be taken to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples-as required by the Brazilian Constitution and international agreements such as the American Convention on Human Rights, Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples-before proceeding with dam construction. That decision by the IACHR provoked a defensive response from the administration of President Dilma Rousseff, which refused to take additional measures to protect indigenous rights.

Eleven civil actions lawsuits against the Belo Monte Dam, filed by the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office, are still pending in Brazilian courts.

"It is clear that the Brazilian judicial system is not working to protect human rights in the case of mega-infrastructure projects such as Belo Monte, given the tremendous economic and political pressures, often linked to corruption," said Antonia Melo, coordinator of the Xingu Forever Alive Movement (Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre). "As a result, we have no alternative but to request the support of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights."

"Our community is under threat and the leaders are the ones who suffer the most," stated José Carlos Arara, an indigenous chief of the Arara village in the Big Bend region of the Xingu. "I am stuck in my village and no longer leave my community after receiving death threats."

"Brazilian diplomacy is in serious danger of an international embarrassment," said Roberta Amanajás, a lawyer with the Pará Society for the Defense of Human Rights. "The Rousseff administration's aggressive response to the IACHR, followed by the Brazilian Senate's vote to censure the OAS last week is a dangerous sign."

"The Brazilian government's position on Belo Monte goes against the image it promotes as a regional leader and its role as the host of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) in 2012," said Astrid Puentes, Co-Director of the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). "We hope that the governments of the region stop promoting environmentally and socially harmful projects and instead seek truly sustainable development based on respect for human rights."

More information

Press Release by Federal Public Prosecutors on lawsuit

Amazon Watch

International Rivers

Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre

Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA)