Brazil Organizations Challenge Legality of Belo Monte Dam in Court

The authorization violates national and international law because the communities affected by the project were not consulted. Construction of the dam continues, causing harms to people, communities and the ecosystem of the Brazilian Amazon.

Source: Amazon Watch

Brasilia, Brazil – Construction of the Belo Monte Dam continues. Meanwhile, biodiversity and the communities of the area already suffer severe damage. Civil society organizations submitted to the Supreme Federal Court an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief that demonstrates that the Congressional decree authorizing the controversial dam is illegal because the government didn’t consult with the affected communities.

The brief contains national and international law arguments for the protection of the environment and human rights. The arguments support a legal action filed by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (Ministério Público Federal), which seeks a Supreme Federal Court ruling that annuls the decree. The Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) prepared the document in cooperation with the Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (DEJUSTICIA), Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), la Associação Indígena Yudjá Mïratu da Volta Grande do Xingu (AYMÏX) and the Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI).

“The Belo Monte project was approved without the State having consulted and obtained the consent of the affected indigenous communities and traditional populations. This, alongside the environmental degradation that began with construction, has placed the individuals and communities in a situation of extreme vulnerability,” explained AIDA’s attorney, María José Veramendi Villa.

By not guaranteeing the right to free, prior and informed consent of the affected communities before authorizing the project, Congress violated the Brazilian Constitution and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Even though public information meetings about the project were held, they did not constitute prior consultation because they were held after the project was approved. Additionally, information provided in the meetings was not translated into indigenous languages. Not all the affected people had access to the meetings and those who did received incomplete and last minute information about the project.

As well as the issues related to free, prior and informed consultation and consent, the document reinforces the Federal Prosecutor’s arguments with regard to the right to access to justice. This right was violated when the government used a law known as Suspension of Security to suspend lower court decisions against the project and favorable to the affected population, ostensibly to protect public security and the economy.

“If the Supreme Federal Court issues a favorable decision, the Brazilian State will have two obligations. Not only will it have to suspend the authorization it gave for the dam’s construction, but also it will have to remedy the past and ongoing harm inflicted on indigenous communities and other populations affected by Belo Monte,” said Dejusticia’s international director, César Rodríguez Garavito.

“Traditional populations affected by the dam are living in unacceptable conditions for democratic times. There is a judicial decision that recognizes that the right to prior consultation was violated, but at the same time another, preliminary and provisional, decision that authorizes construction to move forward,” said Leonardo Amorim, an attorney with Instituto Socioambiental. “Consequently, this population suffers worsening health conditions and invasion of their lands. We hope that the Supreme Federal Court rejects this situation.”

This past Tuesday, the Xingu Alive Forever Movement (MXVPS), with the support of several organizations, requested a hearing with the President (Chief Justice) of the Supreme Federal Court to demand an immediate decision in this legal action, as well as in others that challenge large hydroelectric projects in the Amazon.

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