Brazilian Public Prosecutors denounce ethnocide and call for judicial intervention in Belo Monte

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

After extensive investigations, federal public prosecutors conclude that the Brazilian government's development model promotes the destruction of the social organization, customs, languages and traditions of indigenous peoples

The Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) today initiated legal proceedings in a federal court in Altamira (state of Pará) seeking recognition that the implementation of the Belo Monte dam project constitutes an act of ethnocide by the Brazilian government and dam concessionaire Norte Energia, citing abundant evidence of "the destruction of the social organization, customs, languages and traditions of affected indigenous groups”.  The accusation is based on an extensive investigation conducted by MPF that is further supported by the recent issuing of an Operating License for Belo Monte by IBAMA, the federal environmental agency, despite “deliberate and repeated non-compliance” with required mitigation and compensation measures mandated by prior environmental licenses.

The MPF lawsuit also calls for immediate judicial intervention, via an external independent commission, regarding the indigenous component of an action plan (PBA-I) designed to mitigate and compensate project impacts that was approved by licensing agencies, but implemented by Norte Energia with enormous flaws.  The intervention should allow for an independent external audit aimed at promoting major changes in project management, with a transition from the current situation of illegality and ethnocide (in contrast to mitigation and compensation actions) to a situation where public funds that finance the project are effectively used for the benefit of affected indigenous peoples.

Indigenous People Protest Unkept Promises with FUNAI and NESA officials (Feb 2014)
Indigenous People Protest Unkept Promises with FUNAI and NESA officials (Feb 2014)

According to MPF, the independent intervention/transition commission "should be funded by Norte Energia and consist of a multidisciplinary team with members appointed by FUNAI, the Brazilian Anthropological Association - ABA, the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science - SBPC, the National Human Rights Council, and indigenous and civil society organizations, with equal participation of indigenous peoples and monitoring by the Federal Public Prosecutors Office".  In addition, Norte Energia would be required to demonstrate that is has secured necessary financial resources to implement a revised action plan during the 35 years of its concession contract for Belo Monte.

The MPF lawsuit presents 16 specific requests for court injunctions regarding project management of Belo Monte, including complementary studies on additional impacts caused by illegalities in the environmental licensing process, as well as reparations for social and environmental damage suffered by affected indigenous peoples.  The petition recognizes that judges may order field inspections by anthropologists to ascertain what type of reparation is most appropriate among different ethnic groups.

The lawsuit was filed after a prolonged investigation conducted by Federal Public Prosecutors and various technical experts.  The investigation has already produced 50 volumes of documents and data that demonstrate the tragic impacts of Belo Monte for indigenous peoples.  Rather than being protected during project implementation, the rights and cultural traditions of indigenous peoples were systematically violated, resulting in the real possibility of their disappearance as distinct ethnic groups.  A major cause of this tragedy concerns how the environmental licensing process was conducted, in which risks identified in the environmental impact study (EIA) were repeatedly ignored.

According to MPF, the acts of ethnocide endured by nine indigenous tribes affected by Belo Monte were largely caused by the federal government's lack of rigor in the project’s licensing: in the name of promoting the national interest, obligations were postponed or modified according to the interests of the dam concessionaire, Norte Energia.  Moreover, the failure of the federal government to meet its own obligations – such as strengthening federal agencies responsible for indigenous peoples and the environment (FUNAI and IBAMA, respectively) and removing invaders from indigenous lands - directly contributed to the cultural devastation of ethnic groups.

The lawsuit states that the manner in which Norte Energia and the Brazilian government have implemented Belo Monte constitutes a direct violation of the Federal Constitution, given the use of destructive practices of cultural assimilation towards indigenous groups that are prohibited by Brazilian law. "What is taking place with the Belo Monte dam is a process of ethnic extermination, by which the federal government has continued colonial practices of integrating indigenous peoples into the hegemonic society."

In a summary of major flaws identified in its investigation, the public prosecutors reached the conclusion that “Belo Monte completes its phase of installation without indigenous territories being protected, without the structuring of the indigenous agency FUNAI to fulfill its institutional mission, and in the absence of a minimally-adequate plan for mitigation and compensation of the impacts”.

Belo Monte Dam Construction Site (Nov 2013)
Belo Monte Dam Construction Site (Nov 2013)
Marcelo Salazar (ISA)

Amongst numerous flaws, the MPF lawsuit highlights as especially tragic an ‘Emergency Plan’ implemented by Norte Energia among indigenous territories of the middle Xingu between 2010 and 2012, in which the indiscriminate distribution of consumer goods among tribal peoples constituted a policy of pacification and silencing of opposition that is reminiscent of the most violent moments of Brazil’s colonial history (see MPF video about the emergency plan)

The lawsuit filed in the federal court of Altamira concludes that “thus, it is amply demonstrated that Belo Monte has put into motion a process of  elimination of the livelihoods of affected indigenous groups, failing to impose barriers to foreseen changes and further accelerating them through actions of homogenization and destabilization’”.

Media contacts: 

Federal Public Prosecutors’ Office – State of Pará
Tel: (55-91) 3299-0148 / 98403-9943 / 98402-2708

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