Belo Monte: A Court of Jesters Cleans House

Zachary Hurwitz
Hydro scales
Hydro scales

The Brazilian judiciary looks more like a court of jesters than a court of judges these days. In an obvious political move that will likely grease conditions for investment in Belo Monte Dam and send the legal cases against the dam into bureaucratic oblivion, the Brazilian Federal Court for Pará has removed federal judge Antonio Carlos de Almeida Campelo in the town of Altamira and replaced him with an unknown judge in Belém who has no previous experience in environmental law.  

Campelo had consistently ruled in favor of suspending the Belo Monte auction and environmental license on grounds of unconstitutionality, considering Belo Monte a "danger of irreparable harm."   

The new judge, Ruy Dias de Souza Filho, will preside over a recently created "environmental court" in the city of Belém that will take over the Belo Monte cases. However, according to Brazil's Federal Attorney General Ubiratan Cazetta, the new court is a "disaster" that will delay a decision on the sentencing of the Belo Monte cases as well as that of over 3,500 cases that now fall under the new jurisdiction.  

Jirair Aram Meguerian
Jirair Aram Meguerian

The Regional Federal Tribunal (TRF) for Region 1, the jurisdiction of which includes all of Legal Amazônia, had a hand in Campelo's removal. Jirair Aram Meguerian, the ex-President of the TRF, is notorious for having single-handedly given the green light to the Belo Monte project auction, overturning all three of Campelo's injunctions delivered against federal electric agency ANEEL in April 2010 despite glaring evidence that the auction was held illegally.

Incredibly, Meguerian claimed that he had to overturn the last of Campelo's injunctions because notification was delivered over a Blackberry rather than in person.

Campelo's removal is the latest attack in a back-room war to weaken opposition to Belo Monte Dam that puts the independence of the Brazilian legal system at grave risk. Campelo earlier presented evidence that he had been harassed by ABIN, Brazil's National Intelligence Agency.  Environmental law organizations and social movements sent a letter to the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers of the United Nations requesting an inquiry into violations of judicial independence in Brazil's federal court system.

Railing against the threats to his person and the grave risks to judicial independence implicated in the Belo Monte case, Campelo stated, “Not even during the dictatorship did this happen. One thing is to disagree with judicial decisions and address these through appropriate methods. Another is the failure to follow judicial decisions and even threaten judges. It will become like Venezuela where there is a judge who’s been imprisoned because she ruled against the government.”