Brazilian Government Pressured Over Human Rights Resolution on Amazon Dam

Back to Resources
First published on
This resource has been tagged as a Press Release

Organizations Worldwide Call on Brazil to Respect a Resolution from Inter-American Commission to Suspend the Belo Monte Dam

Washington, D.C. – In a series of letters sent to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, nearly 100 prominent Brazilian and international human rights and environmental organizations, have expressed "deep concerns" over her government's refusal to comply with a resolution of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), part of the Organization of American States (OAS), that requested the immediate halt of construction on the Belo Monte Dam Complex in order to protect indigenous communities in the Brazilian Amazon.

The letters reached President Rousseff after Brazil's virulent and strongly worded rejection of the Commission's resolution sparked the first diplomatic crisis of her administration. Yet in spite of sharpening criticism around the government's planning of the Belo Monte Dam, the project is slated receive a license to begin construction as soon as this month.

Appeals to President Rousseff come from organizations specialized in human rights and environmental and scientific research, representing Latin American countries that work with the IACHR, as well as the United States, Europe and Asia. These include The Social-Environmental Institute (ISA), Brazilian Association of NGOs (ABONG), Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth (FOE) and The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

The letters question the Rousseff government's refusal to cooperate with a request from an international body, as well as the wisdom of an aggressive and retaliatory response to the Commission, precisely at a moment when Brazil aspires to greater status among multilateral organizations, including the UN Security Council.

The petition states: "As organizations that work in the promotion of human rights, it is in our interest that the Brazilian government respects the decision from such an important body for the protection of human rights in the OAS. This is especially crucial given Brazil's binding commitments under both the American Declaration and Convention of Human Rights to guarantee the human rights of all people in its jurisdiction."

The Commission's resolution for "precautionary measures" came in response to a request filed late last year by local grassroots movements and other civil society organizations alleging that Brazil failed to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples and other local populations in the Amazon that would be affected by Belo Monte, slated to be the world's third-largest dam project. The petition argued that in its rush to push forward with dam construction, the Brazilian government denied indigenous peoples' right to free, prior and informed consultations and consent, as well as special measures to protect tribes living in voluntary isolation.

In response, the Brazilian foreign ministry issued a statement, claiming the decision was "precipitated and unjustifiable", followed by an announcement that Brazil was withdrawing its candidate from next year's election to renew commissioners at the IACHR. Subsequently, reports leaked to the Brazilian press alleged that the Dilma administration has threatened the OAS with other retaliatory measures, including a cancellation of funding.

Earlier this month, Brazil's Energy Minister Edison Lobão complained about pressures from international public opinion and denied that the Belo Monte Dam would negatively affect indigenous peoples. He also affirmed that the government is "absolutely confident" that dam construction will commence by the end of June.

However, the Brazilian media revealed last week that the dam-building consortium Norte Energia has not complied with the vast majority of social and environmental conditions that are required prior to receiving an installation license for the Belo Monte Dam. These include measures to protect indigenous lands and improve basic health and sanitation infrastructure in the city of Altamira, where up to 100,000 job-seeking migrants are expected to arrive.

Minister Lobão's announcement that dam construction will begin in June provoked a strong reaction from Brazil's Federal Public Prosecutor's Office. Last Wednesday, it issued a formal recommendation to the federal environmental agency IBAMA that it not approve a full installation license for the mega-project, given "the evident failure to comply with numerous conditionalities and the potential damages associated with issuing another license at this early stage."

"It can be expected that IBAMA will yield to political pressure coming from Lobão and the office of President Dilma, thus issuing a full installation for Belo Monte in June, despite overwhelming evidence of non-compliance conditionalities and other violations of human rights and environmental legislation," said Brent Millikan of International Rivers. "This is precisely the sort of political interference that led to the decision among grassroots movements to file a petition with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in the first place."

Click here to see copies of the letters and an international list of signatories.

Spanish and Portuguese texts may be downloaded here.

More information