Belo Monte Dam Suspended by Brazilian Appeals Court
“Human rights and environmental protection cannot be subordinated to narrow business interests.”
Altamira, Brazil – A high-level court yesterday suspended construction of the controversial Belo Monte dam project on the Amazon’s Xingu River, citing overwhelming evidence that indigenous people had not been properly consulted prior to government approval of the project.
A group of judges from Brazil’s Regional Federal Tribunal (TRF1) upheld an earlier decision that declared the Brazilian Congress’s authorization of the project in 2005 to be illegal. The decision concludes that the Brazilian Constitution and ILO Convention 169, to which Brazil is party, require that Congress can only authorize the use of water resources for hydroelectric projects after an independent assessment of environmental impacts and subsequent consultations with affected indigenous peoples.
The ruling means that Brazilian Congress will have to correct its previous error by organizing consultations on the project’s impacts with affected indigenous peoples of the Xingu River, especially the Juruna, Arara and Xikrin tribes. Their opinions should be considered in a Congressional decision on whether to authorize Belo Monte, and in the meantime the project consortium has been ordered to suspend construction. Project consortium Norte Energia, S.A, led by the parastatal energy company Eletrobras, faces a daily fine of R$500,000, or about US$250,000, if it does not comply with the suspension. The dam consortium is expected to appeal the decision in the Brazilian Supreme Court.
“The court’s decision highlights the urgent need for the Brazilian government and Congress to respect the federal constitution and international agreements on prior consultations with indigenous peoples regarding projects that put their livelihoods and territories at risk. Human rights and environmental protection cannot be subordinated to narrow business interests,” stated Federal Judge Souza Prudente, who authored the ruling.
“This latest court ruling vindicates what indigenous people, human rights activists and the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office have been demanding all along. We hope that President Dilma’s Attorney General and the head judge of the federal court (TRF1) will not try to subvert this important decision, as they have done in similar situations in the past,” said Brent Millikan of International Rivers, based in Brasilia.
“This decision reinforces the request made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in April 2011 to suspend the project due to lack of consultations with indigenous communities. We hope that Norte Energia and the government comply with this decision and respect the rights of indigenous communities,” said Joelson Cavalcante of the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), an organization giving legal support to affected communities.
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